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Member since: Sat Nov 30, 2013, 05:06 AM
Number of posts: 9,851

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National Bagel and Lox Day: Mark Russ Federman, "Russ & Daughters, Reflections and Recipes from

the House That Herring Built"

"A Martian crash-lands his little spaceship at the corner of Orchard and Rivington Streets on the Lower East Side. When he climbs out, he sees that one wheel is missing. ... As luck would have it, he passes a store that has a lot of appropriately sized wheels in the window. He goes inside. Moishe is at the counter.
'I would like to buy a wheel,' the Martian says.
'We don't sell wheels,' Moishe replies.
'Then what's that in the window?'
'Those are bagels.'
'What do you do with them?'
'You eat them,' Moishi says, offering one to the Martian. The Martian eats it and gives Moishi a big smile.
'Do you like it?' Moishi asks.
'It's good,' replies the Martian. 'But it would be even better with cream cheese and lox.'

"The bagel and its cream-cheese-and-lox counterpart have gone mainstream; they are now part of American culture. ... The three components ultimately met and were married in the appetizing stores of the Lower East Side in the 1930s. ... It has always been known as 'bagel and lox' -- the presence of cream cheese is understood. ... The word 'lox' is derived from the German word Lachs, which means 'salmon.' The anglicized version, 'lox,' was first used to describe the millions of Pacific salmon caught, packed in a salt brine, and shipped to New York ports for further travels to Europe. Some of these fish found their way to Brooklyn smokehouses ... then sold in the appetizing stores on the Lower East Side ... . The Eastern European Jews in the neighborhood had no prior experience ... with salmon, smoked or otherwise ... . Because huge quantities of salmon were available, the prices were very cheap ... . Lox quickly caught on among the residents of the Lower East Side, and they took the taste for it with them when they moved out of the neighborhood.

"The bagel landed in America along with the huge wave of Eastern European immigrants who began to arrive on the Lower East Side in the 1880s. Bagels were not difficult to make ... they were hand-rolled, boiled briefly in water, and baked in ovens located in the basements of tenement buildings. The finished bagels were displayed on sticks and sold on the streets for two cents apiece. A bagel was a quick, on-the-go snack, meant to be eaten by itself -- an early form of fast food that was not originally intended to be the structural support for a sandwich. ... The origins of cream cheese are equally cloudy. ... The American version is traced back to a dairyman in upstate New York who, in 1872, was trying to reproduce the soft and creamy French Neufchatel. His results were less fatty and less creamy but became a big hit when wrapped in silver foil and branded as 'Philadelphia.' (At that time Philadelphia, not New York, was an appellation of quality.)"

National Potato Lovers Day

I love Nora Ephron's novel "Heartburn" and she has a lot to say about potatoes:

"I have friends who begin with pasta, and friends who begin with rice, but whenever I fall in love, I begin with potatoes. Sometimes meat and potatoes and sometimes fish and potatoes, but always potatoes. I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them. Not just any potato will do when it comes to love. ... I am talking about crisp potatoes. ... All this takes time, and time, as any fool can tell you, is what true romance is about. In fact, one of the main reasons why you must make crisp potatoes in the beginning is that if you don't ... you never will. I'm sorry to be so cynical about this, but that's the truth.

"One day the inevitable happens. I go to the potato drawer to make potatoes and discover that the little brown buggers I bought in a large sack a few weeks earlier have gone soft and mushy and are sprouting long and quite uninteresting vines .... I throw out the potatoes and look in the cupboard for a box of pasta. This is moment when the beginning ends and the middle begins.

"In the end, I always want potatoes. Mashed potatoes. Nothing like mashed potatoes when you're feeling blue. Nothing like getting into bed with a bowl of hot mashed potatoes already loaded with butter, and methodically adding a thin cold slice of butter to every forkful. The problem with mashed potatoes, though, is that they require almost as much hard work as crisp potatoes, and when you're feeling blue the last thing you feel like is hard work. Of course, you can always get someone to make the mashed potatoes for you, but let's face it: the reason you're blue is that there isn't anyone to make them for you. As a result, most people do not have nearly enough mashed potatoes in their lives, and when they do, it's almost always at the wrong time. (You can, of course, train children to mash potatoes, but you should know that Richard Nixon spent most of his childhood making mashed potatoes for his mother and was extremely methodical about getting the lumps out. A few lumps make mashed potatoes more authentic, if you ask me, but that's not the point. The point is that perhaps children should not be trained to mash potatoes.)"

For me, the most satisfying potato preparation is the croquette. Potato croquettes with cheese in the middle, especially blue cheese. Crisp savory brown exterior deep-fried in well-seasoned oil, soft fluffiness within, gooey salty cheese core: beginning, middle, end, it is the best.

Writing about food: Brillat-Savarin, "The Physiology of Taste": The Bresse Chicken

"On one of the first days of January this present year, 1825, a young married couple, Monsieur and Madame de Versy by name, were guests at an oyster breakfast. Such meals are charming, not only because they are composed of tempting dishes, but also because of the gaiety which usually distinguishes them; however, they have the disadvantage of upsetting the rest of the day's arrangements. ... When dinnertime arrived, the pair sat down at table; but it was a mere formality. Madame took a little soup, Monsieur drank a glass of wine and water ... .

"About two o'clock in the morning, Monsieur de Versy awoke, feeling restless; he yawned, and tossed and turned so much that his wife grew alarmed, and asked if he was unwell. 'No, my dear, but I appear to be hungry; I was thinking of that beautiful white Bresse chicken which we were offered for dinner and to which we gave such a cold reception.' 'My dear, to tell the truth, I am as hungry as you are, and now that you have thought of that chicken it must be sent for and eaten.' 'What an idea! The whole house is asleep, and tomorrow everybody will laugh at us.' '... I'm going to ring for Justine.' No sooner said than done; and the poor girl, who had supped well and was sleeping as only those can sleep who are nineteen years old and untroubled by love, was duly awakened. ... When everything was ready, the chicken appeared, to be torn apart on the spot and remorselessly devoured. After this first exploit, husband and wife shared a large Saint-Germain pear, and ate some orange marmalade. In the intervals they drained a bottle of Graves wine to the dregs, and declared, several times, with variations, that they had never had a more delightful meal. However, this meal came to an end, as all things must in this world. Justine cleared away the incriminating evidence, and went back to bed; and the conjugal curtain fell upon the participants in the feast.

"Next morning, Madame de Versy hurried round to see her friend Madame de Franval, and recounted all that had happened in the night; and it is to that lady's indiscretion that the public owes the present revelation. She never fails to add that when Madame de Versy came to the end of her story, she coughed twice and blushed furiously."

Writing about food: Happy Birthday Gertrude Stein, "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas"

"Next saturday evening at the rue de Fleurus everybody was talking about the banquet to Rousseau ... . It appeared that Picasso had recently found in Montmartre a large portrait of a woman by Rousseau, that he had bought it and that this festivity was in honour of the purchase and the painter. It was going to be very wonderful. Fernande told me a great deal about the menu. There was to be riz a la Valencienne, Fernande had learnt how to cook this on her last trip to Spain, and then she had ordered, I forget now what it was that she had ordered, but she had ordered a great deal at Felix Potins, the chain store of groceries where they made prepared dishes. Everybody was excited. It was Guillaume Apollinaire, as I remember, who knowing Rousseau very well had induced him to promise to come and was to bring him and everybody was to write poetry and songs and it was to be very rigolo, a favourite Montmartre word meaning a jokeful amusement. We were all to meet at the cafe at the foot of the rue Ravignan and to have an aperitif and then go up to Picasso's atelier and have dinner.

"Just then there was a violent noise at the door of the cafe and Fernande appeared very large, very excited and very angry. Felix Potin, said she, has not sent the dinner. Everybody seemed overcome at these awful tidings but I, in my american way said to Fernande, come quickly, let us telephone. In those days in Paris one did not telephone and never to a provision store. ... Fernande was completely upset but finally I persuaded her to tell me just what we were to have had from Felix Potin and then in one little shop and another in Montmartre we found substitutes. Fernande finally announcing that she had made so much riz a la Valencienne that it would take the place of everything and it did. ... It was rather impressive. They had gotten trestles, carpenter's trestles, and on them had placed boards and all around these boards were benches. At the head of the table was the new acquisition, the Rousseau, draped in flags and wreaths ... . The riz a la Valencienne was presumably cooking below in Max Jacob's studio. ... Everybody sat down and everybody began to eat rice and other things, that is as soon as Guillaume Apollinaire and Rousseau came in which they did very presently and were wildly acclaimed."

Writing about food: George Orwell, "Down and Out in Paris and London"

"We had only sixty centimes left, and we spent it on half a pound of bread, with a piece of garlic to rub it with. The point of rubbing garlic on bread is that the taste lingers and gives one the illusion of having fed recently. We sat most of that day in the Jardin des Plantes. ... We wrote dinner menus on the backs of envelopes. We were too hungry even to try and think of anything except food. I remember the dinner Boris finally selected for himself. It was: a dozen oysters, borscht soup (the red, sweet, beetroot soup with cream on top), crayfishes, a young chicken en casserole, beef with stewed plums, new potatoes, a salad, suet pudding and Roquefort cheese, with a litre of Burgundy and some old brandy.

"It was amusing to look round the filthy little scullery and think that only a double door was between us and the dining-room. There sat customers in all their splendour -- spotless table-cloths, bowls of flowers, mirrors and gilt cornices and painted cherubim; and here, just a few feet away, we in our disgusting filth. For it really was disgusting filth. There was no time to sweep the floor till evening, and we slithered about in a compound of soapy water, lettuce-leaves, torn paper and trampled food. A dozen waiters with their coats off, showing their sweaty armpits, sat at the table mixing salads and sticking their thumbs into the cream pots. The room had a dirty mixed smell of food and sweat. Everywhere in the cupboards, behind the piles of crockery, were squalid stores of food that the waiters had stolen. There were only two sinks, and no washing basin, and it was nothing unusual for a waiter to wash his face in the water in which clean crockery was rinsing. ... There was a rule that employees must pay for anything they spoiled, and in consequence damaged things were seldom thrown away. Once the waiter on the third floor dropped a roast chicken down the shaft of our service lift ... We simply wiped it with a cloth and sent it up again.

"Our cafeterie had year-old filth in all the dark corners, and the bread-bin was infested with cockroaches. ... The others laughed when I wanted to wash my hands before touching the butter. ... It is not a figure of speech, it is a mere statement of fact to say that a French cook will spit in the soup -- that is, if he is not going to drink it himself. He is an artist, but his art is not cleanliness. ... When a steak, for instance, is brought up for the head cook's inspection, he does not handle it with a fork. He picks it up in his fingers ... and contemplates the piece of meat like an artist judging a picture, then presses it lovingly into place with his fat, pink fingers, every one of which he has licked a hundred times that morning. ... In very cheap restaurants it is different: there, the same trouble is not taken over the food, and it is just forked out of the pan and flung onto a plate, without handling. Roughly speaking, the more one pays for food, the more sweat and spittle one is obliged to eat with it."

Writing about food: Anthony Bourdain, Japanese breakfast from "A Cook's Tour"

"Dinner at the ryokan may have been the greatest thing ever. Breakfast was another thing entirely. I was OK with the smoked fish, which was very good -- the sushi, the rice. What I was not ready for, and never will be, was natto. The Japanese love natto, an unbelievably foul, rank, slimy, glutenous, and stringy goop of fermented soybeans. It's the Vegemite of Japan ... . There were two kinds of natto for me that morning: the traditional soy variety, and an even scarier black bean natto. If the taste wasn't bad enough, there's the texture. There's just no way to eat the stuff. I dug in my chopsticks and dragged a small bit to my mouth. Viscous long strands of mucuslike material followed, leaving numerous ugly and unmanageable strands running from my lips to the bowl. I tried severing the strands with my chopsticks, but to no avail. ... I sat there, these horrible-looking strings extending from mouth to table like a spider's web, doing my best to choke them down while still smiling ... . All I wanted to do now was hurl myself through the paper walls and straight off the edge of the mountain. Hopefully, a big tub of boiling bleach or lye would be waiting at the bottom for me to gargle with.

"Waiting in the wings, right behind the natto, was another concoction, described as 'mountain potato.' Of this, I could handle only a single taste. To this day, I have no idea what it really was. It didn't taste like a potato -- and I can't imagine anything on a mountain tasting so evil. I didn't ask, frightened that my host might mistake my inquiry for enthusiasm and offer up another generous helping. The small, dark, chewy nugget can only be described as tasting like salt-cured, sun-dried goat rectum -- unbelievably, woefully flavorful -- garnished by small maggotlike wriggly things ... . I thought I would die. Nothing, not bugs, not iguana, not live reptile parts, not tree grubs, nothing I'd ever eaten would approach the horror of these few not unusual Japanese breakfast items. I'm not sneering. I'm sure that natto and mountain rectum are, as they say, 'acquired tastes.' And I'm sure that over time I could learn to appreciate them. If I were incarcerated and natto was the only food provided. But for right now? Given a choice between eating natto and digging up my old dog Pucci (dead thirty-five years) and making rillettes out of him? Sorry, Pucci."

Writing about food: Russell Baker, "Francs and Beans"

"As chance would have it, the very evening in 1975 Craig Claiborne ate his historic $4,000 dinner for two with thirty-one dishes and nine wines in Pairs, a Lucullan repast for one was prepared and consumed in New York by this correspondent ... . The meal opened with a 1975 Diet Pepsi served in a disposable bottle. Although its bouquet was negligible, its distinct metallic aftertaste evoked memories of tin cans one had licked experimentally in the first flush of childhood's curiosity. To create the balance of tastes so cherished by the epicurean palate, I followed with a pate de fruites de nuts of Georgia ... a half-inch layer of creamy-style peanut butter is troweled onto a graham cracker, then half a banana is crudely diced and pressed firmly into the peanut butter and cemented in place as it were by a second graham cracker. ... At this point in the meal, the stomach was ready for serious eating, and I prepared beans with bacon grease, a dish I perfected in 1937 while developing my cuisine du depression. ... Beans with bacon grease is always eaten from the pan with a tablespoon while standing over the kitchen sink. ... The correct drink with this dish is a straight shot of room-temperature gin.

"For the meat course, I had fried bologna a la Nutley, Nouveau Jersey. Six slices of A&P bologna were placed in an ungreased frying pan over maximum heat and held down by a long fork until the entire house filled with smoke. ... The cheese course was deliciously simple -- a single slice of Kraft's individually wrapped yellow sandwich cheese, which was flavored by vigorous rubbing over the bottom of the frying pan to soak up the rich bologna juices. ... It was time for the fruit. I chose a Del Monte tinned pear, which, regrettably, slipped from the spoon and fell on the floor, necessitating its being blotted with a paper towel to remove cat hairs. To compensate for the resulting loss of pear syrup, I dipped it lightly in hot dog relish which created a unique flavor. ... At last it was time for the dish the entire meal had been building toward -- dessert. With a paring knife, I ripped into a fresh package of Oreos, produced a bowl of My-T-Fine chocolate pudding which had been coagulating in the refrigerator for days and, using a potato masher, crushed a dozen Oreos into the pudding. It was immense."

Writing about food: Anton Chekhov's "Oysters"

"If I had been taken into a hospital at that minute, the doctors would have had to write over my bed Fames, a disease which is not in the manuals of medicine. ... Before us was a big house of three stories, adorned with a blue signboard with the word 'Restaurant' on it. ... 'Oysters' I made out on the placard. ... 'Papa, what does 'oysters' mean?' ... . 'It's an animal ... that lives in the sea.' I instantly thought it must be something midway between a fish and a crab. As it was from the sea they made of, of course, a very nice hot fish soup with savory pepper and laurel leaves, or broth with vinegar and fricassee of fish and cabbage, or crayfish sauce, or served it cold with horse-radish.

"'Papa, are oysters a Lenten dish?' I asked. 'They are eaten alive' said my father. 'They are in shells like tortoises, but ... in two halves.' ... I imagined to myself a creature like a frog. A frog sitting in a shell, peeping out from it with big, glittering eyes, and moving its revolting jaws. ... The children would all hide while the cook, frowning with an air of disgust, would take the creature by its claw, put it on a plate, and carry it into the dining-room. The grown-ups would take it and eat it, eat it alive with its eyes, its teeth, its legs! While it squeaked and tried to bite their lips. ... I shuddered at the thought of them, but I wanted to eat! To eat!

"'Oysters!' I cried, pulling my father by the skirts of his coat. ... Two gentlemen in top hats were standing before us, looking into my face and laughing. 'Do you really eat oysters, youngster? That's interesting!' ... I remember that a strong hand dragged me into the lighted restaurant. A minute later there was a crowd round me, watching me with curiosity and amusement. I sat at a table and ate something slimy, salt with a flavor of dampness and moldiness. I ate greedily without chewing, without looking and trying to discover what I was eating. ... All at once I began biting something hard, there was a sound of a scrunching. 'Ha, ha!' He is eating the shells,' laughed the crowd. ... After that I remember a terrible thirst. I was lying in my bed, and could not sleep for heartburn and the strong taste in my parched mouth. My father was walking up and down, gesticulating with his hands."

National New England Clam Chowder Day: Herman Melville's "Moby Dick"

"Upon making known our desires for a supper and bed, Mrs. Hussey ... ushered us into a little room, and seating us at a table spread with the relics of a recently concluded repast, turned round to us and said -- 'Clam or Cod?'
'What's that about Cods, ma'am?' said I, with much politeness.
'Clam or Cod,' she replied.
'A clam for supper? a cold clam; is THAT what you mean, Mrs. Hussey?' says I, 'but that's a rather cold and clammy reception in the winter time, ain't it, Mrs. Hussey?' ... Mrs. Hussey hurried towards an open door leading to the kitchen, and bawling out, 'clam for two,' disappeared.
'Queenqueg,' said I, 'do you think we can make out a supper for us both on one clam?'

"However, a warm savory steam from the kitchen served to belie the apparently cheerless prospect before us. But when that smoking chowder came in, the mystery was delightfully explained. Oh, sweet friends! harken to me. It was made of small juicy clams, scarcely bigger than hazel nuts, mixed with pounded ship biscuit, and salted pork cut up into little flakes; the whole enriched with butter, and plentifully seasoned with pepper and salt. Our appetites being sharpened by the frosty voyage, and in particular, Queequeg seeing his favorite fishing food before him, and the chowder being surpassingly excellent, we dispatched it with great expedition ... .

"Fishiest of all fishy places was the Try Pots, which well deserved its name; for the pots there were always boiling chowders. Chowder for breakfast, and chowder for dinner, and chowder for supper, till you began to look for fish-bones coming through your clothes. The area before the house was paved with clam-shells. ... There was a fishy flavor to the milk, too, which I could not at all account for, till one morning happening to take a stroll along the beach among some fishermen's boats, I saw Hosen's brindled cow feeding on fish remnants, and marching along the sand with each foot in a cod's decapitated head ... ."

National Cheese Lover's Day: John Lanchester's "The Debt to Pleasure"

"This menu is designed and intended to give a sense of warmth, sunlight, the same feeling of opening out of the year ahead that one gets when encountering one's first glimpse, in January, of the upthrusting tenacious insouciant virginal snowdrop. ... Arrange the leaves around the sides of the plates on which they are to be served. Luxuriantly nap them with your vinaigrette. Toast a number of slices of bread, one per person, and then put a tranche of goat's cheese on each slice and pop them all under the grill. Remove just as the cheese starts to bubble and brown. Place toast and cheese in the middle of the dressed plates and serve.

"Cheese is philosophically interesting as a food whose qualities depend on the action of bacteria -- it is, as James Joyce remarked, 'the corpse of milk.' Dead milk, live bacteria. A similar process of controlled spoilage is apparent in the process of hanging game, where some degree of rotting helps to make the meat tender and flavorsome -- even if one no longer entirely subscribes to the nineteenth-century dictum that a hung pheasant is only ready for eating when the first maggot drops onto the larder floor. With meat and game, the bacterial action is a desideratum rather than a necessity, which it is in the case of cheese -- a point grasped even in Old Testament times, as Job reveals in his interrogation of the Lord: 'Hast though not poured me out as milk, and curdled me like cheese?' The process of ripening in cheese is a little like the human acquisition of wisdom and maturity: both processes involve a recognition, or incorporation, of the fact that life is an incurable disease with a hundred percent mortality rate -- a slow variety of death.

"To the right of the counter ... were the cheeses. No fewer than five different versions of the chief Norman glory, Camembert, an example of the profitable ideas sometimes born during periods of historical ferment, as the cheese was invented due to cross-fertilization between the ingredients of the Norman regions and the cheese-making techniques of Meaux, as they were exported to Camembert by the young Abbe Gobert, fleeing the Terror in 1792. Also Livarot, Pont-l'Eveque, Neufchatel, a Brie which to my perhaps hypercritical eye looked a little chalky at the center, and a rich array of small local cheeses ... "
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