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Monday, April 6, 2015

Table for One

Is it me or does it seem like it takes a bit of moxie to dine out alone?


Less so at lunch time, my preferred solo dining time slot, than dinner.  Eating alone at lunch feels more casual for sure.  Regardless, both options offer a fine opportunity for people watching, and my other favorite pastime...inventing stories and backgrounds for the occasional passerby. (Oh, look, a group of girlfriends at a a table together...a Sex in the City assortment of friends?  no, they seem extra animated and the wardrobe's been dialed up an extra notch.  It's graduation/reunion season...they all went to college together.  That's it.  Now, the one on the left...she seems quiet...she had an affair with her friend's boyfriend...yeah...)

But eating at home, alone.  That's a different category.
There's the comfort level.  Your favorite slouchy jeans, pj bottoms or, dare I say it...sweatpants.  A t-shirt and the ratty old dad sweater.  Check.
Dog trailing your every move with laser beam focus.  (She's headed for the kitchen.  Things are looking good. )  Check.
There's the thought of eating while sitting in front of the tv.  All god.  Your mother's not here, you're an adult and you get to do whatever you want!  Wheeeeeee!

And then there's the question of food.
Some of us experience a certain giddiness when faced with the idea of eating whatever we want without compromising our cravings for the sake of our partners, significant others, roommates, etc...  S., a friend at work, sat down across from me at lunch the other day with the most delicious-looking curry and naan.  You know it...Indian food leftovers because her spouse, who emphatically does not like Indian food, had been away on a business trip.  Another friend, dials exuberantly for local Chinese food takeout -- Beef with Broccoli -- whenever her partner, a vegetarian, is away.

I know for a fact that given an evening home alone, my husband does not even begin to think about what he is going to eat until he has already unscrewed the lid to the jar of peanut butter, his go-to form out nourishment.  To each his own.

Me, not so much a "cold food" person.  A sandwich is not going to happen as my solo dinner.  Unless that sandwich is a grilled cheese.  And it comes with a cup of tomato soup...straight out of the box.  No shame in that.

The thing is, I LIKE to cook something at the ned of a long day.  It helps me unwind.  And eating alone wallows a certain selfishness free reign.  If YOU want to eat a banana split for dinner, then so be it!  Livining with a vegetarian?  I think a juicy steak is in order!  Partner can't take heat?  Use jalapeƱos with abandon!

Judith Jones, Julia Childs' legendary editor at Knopf, has even devoted a book to creating perfect meals for yourself.  In The Pleasure of Cooking for One she makes the very excellent point that you are free to experiment when cooking alone.  You are free to fail and it doesn't have to be perfect.  If things don't go as planned, there's always takeout and the best part:  no one is the wiser.

My solo cooking escapades are burly based on in-the-moment cravings.  Steve likes to tell the story of being away on a golf trip and calling me during dinnertime.  He and his brothers were getting ready to head for a burger.  I, in the meantime was steaming a single lobster and had opened a beer, having already pulled the TV up closer to the dining room table.  (You don't want to be cracking lobster claws sitting the floor eating on the coffee table!)
Solo dining perfection!

A regular favorite now that asparagus is in season, is to plate up a raft of steamed asparagus, drape it in Serrano ham (or prosciutto...your preference!) and top it with a soft-boiled or poached egg.   A lovely piece of toasted bread rubbed with a garlic clove while still warm is optional and gives you an excellent tool for mopping up the egg yolk.

The closest I'll get to a "cold" meal is reserved for those nights when, teetering on the brink of complete exhaustion...the best I can do is stop by my favorite butcher shop/charcuterie, The Fatted Calf, for some help with a cheese and cracker plate.  A couple nice cheeses, oh, and maybe some zippy salami with a few olives and those little pickled pappadew peppers make for a perfectly relaxing dinner for one.  Cue last week's episode of Modern Family, please.

Which brings me to tell you about a recipe I've been obsessing over recently.  It's the cover shot of this month's Bon Appetit:  a gigantic seared beauty of a Porterhouse steak.  With little captions that tease (ten minutes ago this porterhouse was frozen solid).
Zoinks!
Another headline above the recipe reads:
We wouldn't tell you to score, season, chill, freeze, fry, slow roast, baste and refry a steak if it wasn't worth it.

Gah!  That's like every possible cooking technique known to man, applied to this piece of meat!  Things get curiouser and curiouser!  You can read more about it here.  My brain's been humming ever since I set eyes on this craziness.  Steve is not as much of a beef lover as I am...and the calendar shows potential...(his next scheduled beer-with-the-boys night!).  This crazy steak experiment WILL HAPPEN!

Is this indeed crazy?
How does one stand a giant porterhouse on its side, upright, in the freezer?
I have 'fear of frying'.  Will I be able to overcome it with this quest?
Answers to these questions...and more...soon.

I'll report back.




Monday, March 30, 2015

Storage

Having moved recently, I can confirm that packing up your belongings and transporting them to a new location forces you to address certain, ahem, realities. Mainly, the overabundance of, stuff. In our case, weeks before the actual move we started going through closets and drawers in an effort to winnow our possessions.
As the weeks turned into days and the clock was ticking down to Moving Day, the conversations went from “hey, wow, look at this...a plaster cast of my hand from first grade. How cool!” to “why on earth are you keeping this old Nikon?! That's crazy.” to grim silence as we continued to go through the contents of our closets and basement. One car load after another…after another went off to Goodwill packed with things we don't use any more.

And then the question of The Magazines came up.


Let me explain...

First, let me assure you, I am not a hoarder. Nor am I sentimental. Clothes or shoes I have not worn in a year or two are immediately edited out of my closet with ruthless enthusiasm. Ok, so maybe I should be a little more ruthless with our kitchen cabinets and drawers. I'm looking at you, unused french press, mini-muffin tin (what was I thinking?) and lobster butter warmers...your days are numbered. Well, and, then, there are the cookbooks. Lots of them...but now…where was I going with all this?

Ah, yes...the magazines.

So years ago, Steve returned from a visit to his grandmother's with one of those old Samsonite suitcases. (You may know the one...there were commercials when I was a kid, showing a gorilla throwing the suitcase around a cage, like a true airline baggage handler, as evidence of its indestructability.) Turns out this suitcase Steve brought home was packed with vintage Gourmet magazines, found in Nana's attic. I was ecstatic.

I've talked about my long term relationship with Gourmet magazine before, and here was a treasure trove from another era. The magazines covered a range from the late 60s and early 70s to the very early 80s.  The ads alone are like a cultural time capsule:  Trimline phones (“fits in the palm of your hand!”), Parliament Lights (cigarette ads!  I kid you not!) and some kind of booze called Dry Sack “made for a man”(...ha ha…really?).

And so we’ve been toting boxes of these old magazines from one apartment to the next for the past ten years.  (And did I mention they weigh A TON?)  As the days leading up to our recent move dwindled, I was torn over what to do with “the magazines”.  Storage space was limited in the new apartment and there was my pronounced aversion to sentimentality, but dear readers, I just couldn’t do it.  I simply could not let go of this archive of food-related memorabilia.  For heavenssakes, I haven’t even made a dent in it!  So, the magazines have moved with us. 

For the time being, I’ve created a “library” of sorts, organizing them by year in cardboard magazine boxes like you might see at the library.  They’re everywhere, and I’m continuing to scheme ideas for where to put them.  I’m even keeping a rotating set on a side table, available for browsing, so they can somehow continue to live…and be appreciated.

Tomorrow is Friday, and I’ve gotten into the habit, or ritual, of preparing a cocktail on Fridays after work for the past year or so.   It’s something I like to ponder during the week, especially when things feel hectic…”what should I make for Friday Cocktail”? I think to myself.  Some people meditate.  Others play soothing music.  I think about cocktails.   

I’ve landed on a rotation of six or seven different cocktails and one of them is a true classic that I found, you guessed it, in the pages of an old Gourmet from my stash.

One of my favorite features in the old magazines is the Letters to the Editors section, called charmingly, Sugar and Spice.  Each month people from all over the world would write in to Gourmet, telling of their enjoyment of this travel feature or another, sharing heirloom recipes, and just spreading the love.  (I don’t ever recall reading any letters of complaint…at least not so far.)  Back when we first got the magazines, I just randomly pulled one from the pile (May 1980) and flipped to the Sugar and Spice section.  My eyes landed on this gem of a Martini recipe, courtesy of E.J. Toner, Jr. of Howell, New Jersey
expressing an appreciation for “a really good dry Martini” before enjoying a “quality cut of rare beef”.  (Mr.?  Ms.?) Toner explains...”this kind of Martini is an elusive rascal, but for those who are truly discerning I think I have found the perfect recipe.”
I have one word for you:  priceless.

And just for fun, in the same batch of letters, from May of 1980...
Florida's Lace Cookies (I can just picture them!),
Green Bean and Mushroom Salad (most definitely one of those ‘retro dishes’… picture the green beans cooked to within an inch of their lives)
Glazed Marble Cake (I just might make that this weekend)
Supper at the Monastery (some history buff with a fascination for the middle ages has shared his recipe for a dish he envisions being made at a monastery from that era…for reals)
Basil, Walnut and Garlic Soup (this felt incredibly current)
Super Sesame Chicken (a classic from the kitchen of the letter writer and a favorite of her kids’)
Ki-Ki’s Onion and Poppy Seed Crackers  (a hand-me-down recipe that goes back several generations in the Miami letter writer’s family.  She says they “go very well with drinkables”.

 …and I’m supposed to throw these magazines into the recycling bin?!  NEVER!!!!
Case closed.  And without further ado, I leave you with an “elusive rascal”.
Happy Friday.

Dry Martini Toner

Make ice cubes from bottled springwater. Put 6 of the ice cubes, crushed, in a cocktail shaker, pour 2 teaspoons dry vermouth over them, and shake the mixture for 3 seconds. Pour off the vermouth and add ¼ cup gin and 2 tablespoons vodka to the ice. Stir the drink for 15 seconds and strain it into a chilled crystal cocktail glass containing 2 olives. Makes 1 drink.

Courtesy of E.J. Toner, Jr. (and Gourmet magazine)
Howell, New Jersey