Sunday, January 16, 2011

Life Is White

 Robert Ryman, Untitled, 1965, Oil on linen

      Seeing another “shades of white” morning from my window in Pennsylvania yesterday, I was happy to hear a family member suggest delaying the trip north by a day.  

      It isn’t a difficult drive to Tuxedo Park, but in winters like the one we’re having it does mean a journey of several hours through expanses of uninterrupted white space at gradually ascending elevations and watching the snowmass increase, while waiting to enter a cold house in a lovely, but lonely, place where no one lives and there’s nothing to do in winter.  That doesn't exactly uplift the heart and neither does the purpose of the trip, which is to make sure that the new furnace is working properly. What if it isn’t? 

Kasmir Malevich, White on White, 1918, Oil on canvas

      We’ll drive up early today , but I expect I will be so sleepy  during the drive (and Sunday mornings are the worst for terrestrial radio programming) that I will be able to ignore the white plains and try to dream about colors.  (Important reader note:  Caroline will be at the wheel. ) 

      The white has actually gotten to my brain, I think.  Yesterday, I missed two significant things that were said to me, which apparently (according to my family) seemed to command my full attention at the time.  This occasioned much laughter, but my inattentiveness sort of disturbs me, especially since in retrospect both subjects, while mundane (one involved instructions for slicing our sad, out-of-season tomatoes) were ones that interested me.   

       My mental state actually reminds exactly of the day in 1978 when I recruited two college friends me to help me paint our first nice apartment, a large corner two-bedroom at 149 Clinton Street in Brooklyn Heights.  It took about 12 hours to paint the entire place white and by the time we were finished and I headed to the subway for the trip back to our old apartment in Manhattan, I was literally walking into walls because I was totally white-paint-blind.  As I recall, the feeling of disorientation and confusion carried over into my dreams that night and part of the next day.

Robert Rauschenberg, Erased DeKooning Drawing, 1953, Pencil on paper

      I could go on with white stories, but I won’t, except to say that what originally brought this all to mind was my desire to post an Alan Davidson recipe for cod, which I don’t currently have access to. (It is in Tuxedo.) It is included in his great North Atlantic Seafood collection, and in it the intrepid Scottish diplomat  and aquaculturist recounts the circumstances of a dinner cooked for him in an Oslo university  laboratory by a renowned Norwegian chemist/gourmet.  The centerpiece of the meal was a traditional, but unusual, Norwegian cod preparation, and the white-coated (as I recall) scientist meticulously prepared this highly important (and most white) North Atlantic foodfish using a batterie de cuisine consisting of laboratory heating equipment, glass measures, beakers, etc. It's a wonderful story and a great recipe. 

Robert Ryman, Ledger, 1982, Enamelac paint on fiberglass, aluminum and wood

      I’ll save that one for another time, but in the meantime I have several other fairly white recipes to share, these taken from Davidson’s later volume of essays, A Kipper With My Tea (London, Macmillan, 1990), which I highly recommend.  It is a short, beautifully written collection containing  Davidson’s observations on a wide range of interesting, often surprising subjects, e.g., marmalade making by men.  Unlike any number of writers now overcrowding this wildly overcommercialized, trivialized field, one always feels Davidson’s heart , soul,  joy for living and respect for life in his writing, and is uplifted by his judicious Scottish intellect, sense of circumspection and his economical use of language.  I suspect that if the British Foreign Office had ever been penetrated by Wikileaks, they would be hard-pressed to find any garrulous, embarrassing revelations in Alan Davidson’s diplomatic correspondence and memoranda.   They might easily wonder at the number of fish references, however, and quickly get the codebreakers to work. 

 Fiskepudding Med Reksaus
Norwegian Fish Pudding With Shrimp Sauce

In Norway there is a special kind of shop called fiskemat, where you can buy fish forcemeat, etc. ready prepared.  Once you have it, you can go on to make either fish pudding, as here, or fiskeboller (fish balls).

     The amount of shrimp sauce provided by Norwegians is generous.  You could make less.

2 cups raw fish flesh, free of skin and bone, e.g., haddock, pollack, saithe
1 tsp salt
1 tsp potato flour
½ tsp mace
¼ tsp ground ginger
30 g (1 oz) butter
½ litre (1 pint) single cream, plus
2 tbsp fish stock (optional)
More butter for greasing the dish

For the shrimp sauce:

450 g (1 lb) cooked shrimp meat, chopped in small pieces
60 g (2 oz) butter
4 tbsp flour
450 ml (1 pint) milk
3 tbsp single cream
Salt and white pepper
1 ½ tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp finely chopped dill

Combine all the ingredients for the fish forcemeat, except the cream, and blend them until the butter has “disappeared”.  Continue blending, adding the single cream (with the fish stock, if used) in installments.  The result will be very light, and is to be used without delay.

      Grease a Pyrex or similar dish of suitable size and pour the forcemeat into it.  Tap the sides to help it settle down.  Then cover it with greaseproof paper, place it in a baking tin half full of boiling water, put this in a preheated oven (355 degrees F, 180 degrees C, gas mark 4) and leave it for between 45 and 60 minutes.  (The water may need to be topped up with more boiling water.)  Test with a knitting needle; when it goes into the pudding and comes out dry and clean, the dish is ready.    Let it stand for a few minutes after taking it out, and pour off any excess liquid before you serve it.  (There is no need to go through the business of inverting it on to a platter if the dish it was cooked in can be brought to table; always a relief, for me anyway.)

            Meanwhile, you have made the shrimp sauce, thus.  Melt the butter in a pan, remove from the heat and stir in the flour with a whisk.  Add the milk and cream, then cook the mixture over a low heat, whisking all the while, until it is smooth and fairly thick.  Now season with salt and white pepper, stir in the lemon juice, add the chopped shrimp, and let the whole heat through. Finally, add the dill and serve the sauce with the pudding.

Partan Bree
Crab Soup

Partan is the Scots word for crab, and bree means stock, broth or, as here, soup.  Recipes vary, but this one is my favourite.  It does not stray far in ingredients and method from that in the famous Cookery Book of Lady Clark of Tillypronie (1909), but the quantities are reduced and advantage is taken of the blender, which she did not possess.

      If you prefer to use a pack of frozen crabmeat (500g/1 lb), with the white and brown meat conveniently separated into two sachets, use 120 g (1/4 lb) of each, keeping the rest for other purposes.

1 dressed crab
75 g (3 oz) rice
550 ml (1 pint) milk
550 ml (1 pint) fish or chicken stock
125 ml (1/4 pint) single cream
Salt and white pepper
A dash of anchovy essence
Chopped parsley

Set the rice to cook, until soft, in the milk.
      Meanwhile, pick out, chop into fair-size chunks and reserve the white meat of the crab.  Blend the brown meat with the rice and milk until smooth.

      Put the blended mixture in a large saucepan over low heat and gradually stir in the stock and the seasonings (careful with the salt if your stock is already salty), together with the white crabmeat.  Bring it almost to a boil, but not quite.  Just before serving, stir in the cream.

      Strew the chopped parsley in the bottom of the soup tureen or individual bowls, and pour the soup over it.
     Finally, this last one looks absolutely great:

Shrimps on Rye Bread With A Fried Egg

This classic shrimp dish of the German North Sea coast.  If you wish to be really authentic, eat it with a cup of strong tea, sweetened with large lumps of sugar candy.

200 g (7 oz) cooked North Sea shrimps
4 slices dark rye bread
60 g (3 oz) butter
4 eggs
Salt and pepper to taste

Butter the slices of bread and spread them thickly with shrimps. Heat the remaining butter in a frying pan and fry the eggs in this, sunny side up.  Put one fried egg on top of each helping, season with salt and pepper and serve.


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