Sunday, October 31, 2010

Self-Portrait As Ray Milland

Ronald Firbank: Two Excerpts For A Sunday Morning (The Kibble Mirror)


      “When we were first married,” she said, “I was very, very wretched.  I would weep, weep, weep at night!  And in the morning, often my maid would have to put my pillow-case out upon the window-ledge to dry.  Fortunately, it was in Sicily, so it never took long.” 

-- Vainglory (1915)

     To watch the trees slip past in the dusk was entrancing quite.  In a meadow a shepardess with one white wether stood up and waved her crook.
     “Poor Palmer seems completely worn out.”
The maid stirred slightly at her name.
“When Greek meets Greek, miss,” she asked informingly, “can you tell me what they’re supposed to do?”
“Since we’re all English,” Miss O’Brookomore replied, “I don’t think it matters. . . . “

-- Inclinations (1916)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Bo Diddley (and his great Bo Diddley beat)

The other day Jane and I were driving near Shady Grove Lane in Westtown, PA and I decided to play her the recording of Shady Grove by Quicksilver Messenger Service, which I knew she had never heard, but I had been thinking about. 

Upon hearing Quicksilver's unusual, but highly exciting, version of this old folk song, I asked Jane what, if anything, came to her mind. 

She quickly said, "it's got the Bo Diddley beat".

I was extremely pleased and proud of her, almost as much as I was when I checked out her iTunes listing of her favorite songs and found it heavily weighted with Carl Perkins, Howlin' Wolf and Louvin Brothers numbers.  (I mean, she's only 13; the songs on the list were all her choices.)

I think only four "modern" rock bands have ever been able successfully to play the music of the great Bo Diddley:  The Pretty Things, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Dr. Feelgood and the New York Dolls.

They're all favorites of mine. Some marvelous performances by each group are included below:

The Pretty Things

Quicksilver Messenger Service

Dr. Feelgood

New York Dolls

Friday, October 29, 2010

Cape Comorin, South India, March 1952 (Paul Bowles)


     Last night I awoke and opened my eyes.  There was no moon; it was still dark, but the light of a star was shining into my face through the open window, from a point high above the Arabian Sea.  I sat up, and gazed at it.  The light it cast seemed as bright as that of the moon in northern countries; coming through the window, it made its rectangle on the opposite wall, broken by the shadow of my silhouetted head. I held up my hand and moved the fingers, and their shadow too was definite.  There were no other stars visible in that part of the sky; this one blinded them all.  It was about an hour before daybreak, which comes shortly after six, and there was not a breath of air.  On such still nights the waves breaking on the nearby shore sound like great, deep explosions going on at some distant place.  There is the boom, which can be felt as well as heard and which ends with a sharp rattle and hiss, then a long period of complete silence, and finally, when it seems that there will be no more sound, another sudden boom.  The crows begin to scream and chatter while the darkness is still complete.

     The town, like the others here in the extreme south, gives the impression of being made of dust.

-- From Notes Mailed At Nagercoil


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Arancini di Riso (Little Oranges Of Rice)

I love arancini di riso, and what could be more beautiful?

Giadia De Laurentiis’ recipe below seems very good and logical.  

However, her “degree of difficulty” description reminds me of that old Senor Wences wisecrack, “easy for you, difficult for me.”  I love cooking most "normal" rice preparations (from a variety of cultures), but whenever I've tried to fashion arancini or sushi, I end up with hands that look like rice gloves.  Onward and upward, I say.  I intend to get the hang of this someday because the arancini offered for sale at most commercial establishments tend to be bland, overcooked, heavy and starchy.  Properly prepared, they are heavenly, a sort of riso or risi e bisi apotheosis.

Arancini Di Riso

Vincent Van Gogh, Still Life With Oranges, Lemons and Blue Gloves, 1889, Oil on Canvas

Arancini di Riso (Giada De Laurentiis)

Prep Time: 10 min

Cook Time: 20 min

Level: Easy

Serves:  about 20 servings

  • Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
  • 2 large eggs, beaten to blend
  • 2 cups Risotto with Mushrooms and Peas, recipe follows, cooled
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 1/2 cups dried Italian-style bread crumbs
  • 2 ounces mozzarella, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • Salt
Pour enough oil in a heavy large saucepan to reach the depth of 3 inches. Heat the oil over medium heat to 350 degrees F.

Stir the eggs, risotto, Parmesan, and 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs in a large bowl to combine. Place the remaining breadcrumbs in a medium bowl. Using about 2 tablespoons of the risotto mixture for each, form the risotto mixture into 1 3/4-inch-diameter balls. Insert 1 cube of mozzarella into the center of each ball. Roll the balls in the bread crumbs to coat.

Working in batches, add the rice balls to the hot oil and cook until brown and heated through, turning them as necessary, about 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the rice balls to paper towels to drain. Season with salt. Let rest 2 minutes. Serve hot.

Mushroom Risotto with Peas:
  • 8 cups canned low-salt chicken broth
  • 1/2-ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups finely chopped onions
  • 10 ounces white mushrooms, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups Arborio rice or short-grain white rice
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine
  • 3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed
  • 2/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, optional
Bring the broth to a simmer in a heavy medium saucepan. Add the porcini mushrooms. Set aside until the mushrooms are tender, about 5 minutes. Keep the broth warm over very low heat.

Melt the butter in a heavy large saucepan over medium heat. Add olive oil. Add the onions and saute until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the white mushrooms and garlic. 

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the porcini mushrooms to a cutting board. Finely chop the mushrooms and add to the saucepan. Saute until the mushrooms are tender and the juices evaporate, about 5 minutes. Stir in the rice and let it toast for a few minutes. 

Add the wine; cook until the liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 2 minutes. Add 1 cup of hot broth; simmer over medium-low heat until the liquid is absorbed, stirring often, about 3 minutes. 

Continue to cook until the rice is just tender and the mixture is creamy, adding more broth by cupfuls and stirring often, about 28 minutes (the rice will absorb 6 to 8 cups of broth). 

Stir in the peas. Mix in the Parmesan. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Yield: 6 servings
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour

Vincent Van Gogh, Still Life: Vase With Fifteen Sunflowers, 1888, Oil on canvas

Odilon Redon, Ophelia, 1900-5, Pastel on paper mounted on board

Arancini Di Riso

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Poundbury (The Gap In The Curtain)

"I had been in two minds about accepting Sally Flambard's invitation.  She is my very good friend but her parties are rather like a table d'hote.  Her interests are multitudinous, and all are reflected in her hospitality, so that a procession goes through her house which looks like a rehearsal for the Judgement Day.

        'Who's the dark fellow opposite George Lamington?'

          Her face brightened into interest. 'That's my new discovery.  A country neighbor, no less -- but a new breed altogether.  His name is Goodeve.  Sir Robert Goodeve.  He has just succeeded to the place and title.'

Of course I knew Goodeve, that wonderful moated house in the lap of the Downs, but I had never met one of the race.  I had a notion that it had died out.  The Goodeves are one of those families about which geneaologists write monographs, a specimen of that unennobled gentry which is the oldest stock in England.  They had been going on in their undistinguished way since Edward the Confessor.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Shady Grove -- Jean Ritchie and Quicksilver Messenger Service


Shady Grove, my little love
Shady Grove, I say
Shady Grove, my little love
I'm bound to go away

Cheeks as red as a blooming rose
And eyes are the prettiest brown
She's the darling of my heart
Sweetest girl in town

"Shady Grove is an 18th century folk song popular in the United States.  It is a standard in the repetoire of folk, Celtic and bluegrass musicans.  In most traditional versions, the melody is in a minor key.  However, Bill Monroe's and some subsequent bluegrass versions use a major-key variation.

Many verses exist, most of them describing the speaker's love for a woman called Shady Grove.  There are also various choruses, which refer to the speaker traveling somewhere (to Harlan, to a place called Shady Grove or simply 'away'.  Some have said that there have been over 300 stanzas written and added as variations."

I love this version by the great Kentucky artist (singer and dulcimer player) Jean Ritchie and also this intense rendition by Quicksilver Messenger Service, which the San Francisco band (John Cippolina, Greg Elmore and David Freiberg) recorded after Nicky Hopkins, the legendary English pianist and "session man"  joined the group in 1969. Quicksilver updated the lyrics as follows:

I used to walk on the city streets
Now I wander far and wide
And I never found my happiness 
Until I moved to the countryside

Now follow me for a quiet day
Out riding on the trails
Away from smog and traffic fog
Where all the pigs have tails

Monday, October 25, 2010

All Parrots Speak (Paul Bowles)

I. The boat came in fifteen hours late, and there was nothing we could do but sit in the breathlessly hot room and wait.  Nothing, that is, until the proprietor appeared in the doorway with a full-grown parrot perched on his finger and asked us if we wanted to converse with it. 

“Does it speak?” I asked.

Claro que si.  All parrots speak.”  My ignorance astonished him.  Then he added, “Of course it doesn’t speak English.  Just its own language.”

II. The next pstticine annexation to the household (in the interim came an armadillo, an ocelot and a tejon – a tropical version of the raccoon) was a parakeet named Hitler.  He was about four inches high and no one could touch him.  All day he strutted about the house scolding, in an eternal rage, sometimes pecking at the servants’ bare toes.  His voice was a sputter and a squeak, and his Spanish never got any further than the two words perquito burro (stupid parakeet), which always came at the end of one of hs diatribes; trembling with emotion, he would pronounce them in a way that recalled the classic orator’s “I have spoken.”

III. Two parrots live with me now.  I put it thus, rather than, "I own two parrots", because there is something about them that makes them very difficult to claim as one's property.  A creature that spends its entire day observing the minutiae of your habits and vocal inflections is more like a rather critical friend who comes for an indefinite stay.

IV. I think my susceptibility to parrots may have been partly determined by a story I heard when I was a child.  One of the collection of parrots from the New World presented to King Ferdinand by Columbus escaped from the palace into the forest.  A peasant saw it, and never having encountered such a bird before, picked up a stone to hit it, so he could have its brilliant feathers as a trophy.  As he was taking aim, the parrot cocked his head and cried “Ay, Dios!”  Horrified, the man dropped the stone, prostrated himself, and said, “A thousand pardons, senora!  I thought you were a green bird.”

Excerpts from Their Heads Are Green And Their Hands Are Blue

See also:   Here for The Cow
                 Here for The Cobra

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Recipes from a Lost Classic -- Ma Gastronomie by Fernand Point

Vienne, La Pyramide

“I try to make every meal une petite merveille.” 
– Fernand Point

“Fernand Point was just 25 when he opened the Restaurant de la Pyramide in the old Roman town of Vienne, halfway between Paris and the Cote d’Azur.  He had served apprenticeships at some of France’s best restaurants and hotels and was considered a cuisinier of ability and imagination, but no one could have imagined the extent of his culinary accomplishments to come.  Within ten years La Pyramide was recognized as one of the finest restaurants in France.  Point never had to advertise; his table and his dedicated clientele spoke for him more eloquently than any advertisement.”  --  From the Introduction, Ma Gastronomie

Chausson Aux Truffes Andre Pic

Peel some medium-size truffles and season them with salt and pepper.  Wrap each truffle in a very thin piece of pork fat and place on a circle of puff pastry dough.  Moisten the edges of the dough with water, fold into a turnover and seal.  Place the turnovers on a baking sheet, brush lightly with beaten egg, and bake in a hot oven for twenty minutes.  Serve hot.

Salade De Truffes

Brush and clean thoroughly some fresh truffles from Perigord. Slice them on a mandoline and marinate them for ten minutes in a mixture of lemon juice, salad oil, salt and pepper.  Serve immediately with some foie gras on the side.

Truffes Aux Chateuneuf

Brush and peel some truffles.  Crush the peelings in a mortar with a little olive oil and strain through a sieve.   Slice the truffles and put them in an earthenware  pot with a carrot, the white part of a leek, an onion, some finely minced thyme, the pureed truffle peelings, and some thick, well-seasoned veal broth.  Cook gently over low heat.  Add eight ounces of Chateauneuf-du-Pape during cooking.  Serve with a fried-in-butter crouton under each truffle slice.

Ouefs A La Coque Aux Truffes (Soft-Boiled Eggs With Truffles)

Put six large truffles in a bowl with some raw eggs in their shells.  Cover the bowl tightly with a damp cloth and keep it in a cool place for four or five days.  Remove the eggs and cook the truffles for thirty minutes.  Set the truffles aside for another use.  Soft-boil the unshelled eggs in the water in which the truffles have cooked and serve with small pieces of deep-fried potatoes to dip into them.

Ouefs Sur Le Plat (Fried Eggs)

"Fernand Point judged the merit of a cook by the way he made fried eggs.  That is why, despite his kindness and understanding, he would thunder out, “Stop, you wretch, that’s a farce!”, whenever one of his apprentices did not fry eggs according to the method indicated below."

Melt some butter in a small skillet but do not let it sizzle.  Break fresh eggs onto a plate and slip them into the skillet.  Cook over very low heat so that the whites of the eggs become creamy and the yolks are hot.  In another pan melt some unsalted butter very gently.  Salt and pepper it lightly and pour it over the eggs at the last moment.

Please See Also Part Two (Link)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Some Places I Would Like To Revisit, But Can’t, Part 2: Meson Botin and Darbar (Stuffed Peppers and Palak Shorba)

Spanish Pavilion, New York World's Fair, 1964

Wishing to add two locations to my list of  places I would like to revisit but can't, I think immediately of Meson Botin and Darbar, two New York City restaurants where I spent a great deal of very happy time.  I haven't been able to locate photographs of either place, but can see them in my mind and feel their presence daily and acutely.

Meson Botin was a Spanish restaurant on West 58th Street in Manhattan. Its story is similar to that of the legendary French restaurant, Le Pavillon, at Park Avenue and East 57th Street.  Both restaurants sprang from national pavilion restaurants organized for the New York World's Fair (Le Pavillion from the French Pavilion at the 1938 World's Fair and Meson Botin from the 1964 fair's Spanish Pavilion), and both establishments influenced New York's culinary landscape by giving birth to additional restaurants in the city when members of their respective staffs eventually struck out on their own.

Because of the primacy of French cuisine in the culinary universe, Le Pavillion gained far greater renown, hosting during its heyday kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers, Kennedys, Onassises, and (naturally and inevitably) the Duke and Duchess of Windsor. 

The Duke and Duchess of Windsor

Meson Botin lived a successful, but distinctly quieter, West Side existence on the block between Seventh Avenue and Broadway.  It was more of a neighborhood place offering wonderful food and wine from all of Spain's provinces, privacy (if you desired it; it always seemed like it would be a good place to conduct a clandestine romance or conclude a secret business deal), or the excellent conversation of Pepe Russo, the owner, if you preferred company instead. 

Botin was frequented by the rakish and raffish -- Spain aficionados of all sorts, members of the New York Bullfighters Club (who gathered there monthly for meetings), the owner's art clients (Pepe had an art business on the side; we once bought a charming painting of a girl holding a white cat from him that was painted by a formerly famous Broadway actress), and some quiet weirdos.  Tourists regularly arrived demanding margaritas at the lovely bar, failing to realize that Spain is not Mexico (and vice versa), and Pepe obliged them by making the best margaritas ever served in New York.

What made Meson Botin Madrid in New York was its quiet, dignified authenticity.  Years before tapas became an expensive fetishist affectation in Manhattan (missing the whole point of the cuisine and custom and denaturing this most natural way of dining), Pepe presented a fairly extensive, uniformly excellent, and reasonably priced  tapas menu (in the bar only, as is proper).  I think I miss his tortilla espanol and croquetas de jamon more than any two foods I've ever eaten. My favorite menu item, however, was Botin's stuffed peppers, always perfectly flavored and cooked, which were served in a glossy mahogany-colored sauce.  This isn't a photograph of the dish as Botin prepared it (the photo, as you can see, shows red peppers), nor their genuine recipe.  But this version from Penelope Casas' The Foods and Wines Of Spain is as close as I can manage and looks excellent.

Pimientos y Calabacines Rellenos (Stuffed Green Peppers and Zucchini)

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions
3 cloves garlic
2 lbs. chopped beef or a mixture of beef, veal and pork
Freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons minced parsely
2 tablespoons dry red wine
2 tablespoons minced cured ham
2 fresh tomatoes, skinned and chopped
3 medium zucchini
1/2 cup cooked short or long-grain rice
6 green peppers
3/4 cup tomato sauce, preferably homemade

Heat the oil in a skillet and saute the onion and garlic until the onion is wilted.  Add the chopped meat and continue cooking, stirring frequently until the meat is lightly browned.  Season with salt and pepper.  Add the parsley, wine, tomato, ham and chopped tomato.  Cut the zucchini in half crosswise and hollow them out, adding the flesh to the meat mixture and reserving the shells.  Continue cooking this mixture for 5 minutes.  Stir in the rice and cook 5 minutes more, uncovered.  Cut off the caps of the green peppers (reserve them) and scoop out the seeds and the membrane.

Dilute the tomato sauce with 3/4 cup water.  Season with salt and pepper.  Pour into a baking dish.  Stuff the zucchini and peppers about 3/4 full with the meat mixture.  Close the peppers with the reserved caps.  Arrange in the baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for about 1 hour, basting occasionally and adding more water as the sauce thickens.  Serve with a light red wine such as Spanish Claret.

The Delhi Darbar of Akbar II by Ghulum Murtaza Khan, ca. 1813

We had a long, odd, but cozy relationship with the staff and owners of Darbar on West 56th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. The restaurant was adjacent to Caroline's EMI Records offices and it took us a while to try it out because, in an earlier incarnation, the space housed a place called Arthur's that featured singing and performing waiters looking for their big break.  The only time we previously stopped in there for drinks, they tried to dragoon me into the floor show, which was embarrassing and horrible.

When we finally visited Darbar, we found that it was an Indian restaurant of uncommon refinement, excellence and elegance.  We began coming for dinner fairly often, but mostly stopped by either for post-work drinks or for a light lunch of their palak shorba, a phenomenal spinach soup made especially distinctive by the inclusion of a small amount of cream (which I was given to understand was non-traditional) and a feathering of mustard oil  across its surface. With some samosa, bhajia or one of their good flavored breads (their onion kulcha was sensational), it was the perfect light lunch.

Dave Davies

Because of its central Manhattan location, Darbar was extremely, if quietly, show-bizzy.  David Letterman was often there with senior members of his staff.  My personal all-time hero, Dave Davies of The Kinks was a regular, departing evening meals with a cheerful, friendly, incredibly high-pitched (think "Waterloo Sunset" and "Funny Face") farewell of "Tomorrow", announcing and promising his inevitable return.  (Dave is a vegetarian and Indian cuisine is obviously paradise for those who never eat meat.)

As with the previous entry for Meson Botin, this is not Darbar's recipe for palak shorba, nor is it a picture from the restaurant.  These, sadly, are lost to me. However, I visit Meson Botin and Darbar frequently in my dreams.  I do wish Caroline and I could take Jane there so that she could know this part of us a little better.   She knows so much already.

Palak Shorba (Spicy Spinach Soup)(Sanjeeve Kapoor Recipe)

Preparation time:  10 minutes
Cooking time:  10-15 minutes
Servings: 4

Spinach -- 2 bunch (approx. 1 1/2 pounds)
Olive oil --2 tablespoons
Black cardamom -- 3
Clove -- 2
Cinammon -- 1 inch piece
Refined flour (maida)(use Wondra) -- 2 tablespoons
Ginger (chopped) -- 3 inch piece
Garlic (chopped) -- 5 cloves
Onion (chopped) -- 1 medium
Black peppercorns -- 4 or 5
Bay leaf -- 4
Salt -- to taste
White pepper powder -- 1/4 teaspoon
Roasted cumin powder -- 1 teaspoon
Mustard oil

Blanch spinach leaves in boiling water for two to three minutes.  Drain, refresh in cold water and puree them in a mixer.  Heat olive oil in a deep pan.  Add black cardamoms, cloves, cinammon and refined flour and saute for two to three minutes.  Add ginger, garlic and onion and continue to saute for about five minutes.  Add black peppercorns, bay leaves, salt, white pepper powder, roasted cumin powder and five cups of water. Stir and simmer for ten minutes stirring at intervals.  Strain the stock.  Add the spinach puree to the strained stock and mix well.  Cook for four to five minutes.  Serve hot with a little mustard oil drizzled over the top of each serving.

Another recipe for Palak Shorba written in Urdu