About Me

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on the downward side of the age mountain.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Is there an East Coast Tuna Sandwich in the House?

There was an article in the New York Times food section last Wednesday that I not only thoroughly enjoyed but also stimulated my “little grey cells” (as Hercules Poirot alluded to his brain). Under the Feed Me category by Alex Witchel was a piece titled Childhood Was Just Around the Corner. Ms. Witchel humorously describes how we cling to our food memories thinking that if we liked a said dish others naturally would. A second part of the story discusses our quest to re-create “historical” dishes. Then there is the culinary crossroad that some reach
when we try to adopt other’s food memories as if they are ours( I turn Mediterranean every summer with the plethora of vegetables), not only to be disappointed, but that they don’t connect the dots to our imagination.

One quest that Ms. Wichel was able to satisfy, thanks to her sister, was how tuna salad from Artie’s Delicatessen on Broadway at 83rd was a dead ringer for her Saturday night tuna at summer camp. This memory struck very close to home. You see, East Coast Deli Tuna is something I crave. I never knew that there could be different ways to make restaurant tuna until I moved to the Edge and now I have an almost fanatical yearning. I always order mine on toasted white bread. The cook uses an ice cream scoop and places the tuna salad in the middle of the bread so when it is cut diagonal there is a mountain in the middle, too thick to bite into and none on the edges. My adult additions include lettuce, tomato, and a slice of onion. Granted the lettuce and tomato are less than memorable but I like the added challenge to eating the sandwich.

The tuna must be white albacore and blended with copious amounts of mayonnaise to achieve an almost pâté-like consistency. Celery and onions are allowed but in infinitesimal dice so as not to distract from the salad texture. The perfect beverage? Lots of diner coffee at just the right almost tongue-burning temperature. I took this all for granted before I move to the Edge.

I should have known I was in for trouble the first time I ordered my tuna and coffee when the waitress asked if I wanted it with mayonnaise. I pondered- How else would it be made-

By the time my sandwich was placed in front of me, I was dreading my first bite. I removed the slice of generic tomato, onion, both true to form, and what was this? A piece of curly green leaf? Where was the armor of iceberg protecting the scoop of tuna with its curved shape? And then-blasphemy! The tuna used wasn’t albacore but chunk light. It didn’t have a smooth pâté consistency and pickle relish had been added. Yes, they grudgingly made it with a minimum of mayo or could it have been Miracle Whip? The mayo the waitress had asked me about was slathered on the toast. My eyes welled up with disappointment.

I had a revelation that day. I’ve turned into a diner eating east coast tuna queen. My NSSP goes back to his roots with corned beef or pastrami. I open the huge plastic menu and pretend I’ll order something different. Salami and eggs? Feta, tomato omelets- a Greek diner staple? Matzo Ball Soup? It’s all a ruse. I know the minute we slide into those huge Naugahyde banquettes with a metal bowl of pickles placed in front that it will be tuna and coffee. I will be in east coast heaven.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

The Bouquet of Friendship

How did my CN know that a riot of colors were just what this woman needed to cheer her up? Posted by Picasa

Summer's End

I have been dreading last night since the summer began. It was the night that the Princess went back to her six-digit college. The NSSP accompanied her to get her settled in. He then will proceed to a dip in the sands of Las Vegas for a convention earning the buckaroos for our lifestyle.

The last two weeks I was either basking in her presence or wishing she was “on the jet plane”. But yesterday there was nothing to keep the knot out of my throat nor the tears at bay as my sadness washed over me. There is no mention in child rearing manuals about how to deal with the flight from the coop. Yes, it’s cutely called empty nest but who talks to birds to see how they feel or cope? Going to college is a jubilant event- your child has reached a milestone and is on the cusp of an independent life. But for the parents it is the realization that we are getting old and forced into a change we didn’t foresee.

With two years under her belt, we were cohabitating quite well. There were no curfews. Meals weren’t mandatory, and there was late night entertaining on the lower deck replete with supine bodies haphazardly strewn on the floors of the lower level. Couldn’t this last a bit longer?

And so they left- taken away- to ride the red-eye back east. I was left holding down the fort with plants to water, animals to feed, and bills to pay. It was a hard night. I consoled myself with a Laurel and Hardy Netflix, and thought of my father who loved these comedians.

The next morning, when the alarm broke into classical song I reached across the bed to find Mr. B. Lightyear and not NSSP. I did have things to do. First there was a trip downtown to the library. What better place to “shop” for free! I filled my bag with abandon. If I get through three of the books I checked out that will be an accomplishment. In the mean time they are mine for the stroking.

An appointment for Mr. B. Lightyear’s nails meant a trip to my favorite grocery store. For some shoppers, their blood pressure rises with anxiety at the thresh hold of a grocery store. My CN calls it an allostatic load, a term meaning a time when we are faced with too many choices and become overwhelmed. I on the other hand get an endomorphic rush and my pulse slows as I grab a cart and throw my purse in the baby seat. I sailed through the produce section thinking of the two items I needed- organic milk and orange juice. I grabbed the ½ gallon of milk and then turned to stare at the o.j.

When the other 2/3rd’s are home we have a “no pulp” rule. I was brought up with pulpy orange juice meaning fresh-squeezed and extra good. Somehow this never translated to the other two so gallon after gallon I mindlessly bought no pulp. But now, a glimmer of healing, and shall I say rebellion to this rule crossed my consciousness. I reached for the pulp filled juice and it landed in my cart. Next there were the whole grain boules with dried cranberries and nuts voila la another slam dunk in the cart. Was that turkey pastrami that they all shun? How about a ½ #!

Although there would be neither extraneous noise nor extra mouths to feed I realized I could eat the forbidden lamb tonight with sautéed spinach and watch another black and white movie.

There is always a part of me that pines for the Princess. Her thick dark brunette hair, flashing smile, and ice blue eyes I attribute to her Great Grandfather. I also miss dear NSSP who takes the garbage out and walks the dog at night. But tonight I will regroup with the pets, admire flowers that CN sent to cheer me up and eat family forbidden food.

Maybe tomorrow I'll have crisp sauteed chicken livers flamed in cognac atop garlic mashed potatoes...I think I'm on the mend.

Queen Art-o-Eat

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Romancing the Strip

There are many smells that conjure up fond memories and stomach grumbles, but no aroma transports me like sizzling bacon. Pungent, unique, it stands alone or marries well with the steam of fresh brewed coffee.

But bacon…today it’s a rare occurrence and I feel decadent inhaling its salty, fatty essence. Each time a flood of memories leap from my past and vie for re-living.

There were the breakfasts of my childhood in Iowa. Amazingly crispy fried eggs that were achieved by sliding them in the too hot bacon grease. Bouncy scrambled eggs flecked with bits of leftover bacon crumbs that had stuck to the copper-bottomed Revere Ware fry pan. Sometimes bacon came with pancakes or French toast slathered in butter and swimming in as much maple syrup as I could pour before my mother noticed. The bacon in either case languished in maple syrup splendor adding a decadent sweetness to the already salty crunch.

Bacon in Bangkok was another matter. A short tour of duty in my middle years landed my family in Thailand and bacon bought at the PX. The humble hog parts had traveled miles in refrigerated ocean tankers and more often than not arrived slightly rancid. The unbearable temperatures made breakfast with bacon less than enjoyable. There was a respite from indulging in those dubious strips.

College and dorm cafeterias showed another side of bacon. Endless strips of bacon cooked in wee hours were held under heat lamps at the wrong temperature. They were undercooked, overcooked, black, and limp pieces to forage through until two perfect strips were discovered and put on my plate. Yes, I ate them, but they had not been lovingly prepared nor did they have the pervasive bacon perfume.

Bacon sidled up to lobster and cream cheese omelettes during summers spent in Maine. The sweetness of the omelette was a perfect counterpoint for you know what. The ultimate BLT was perfected. A contrast of hot toast, warm bacon, room temperature sliced August tomato, and cold iceberg lettuce slathered together with mayonnaise and eaten standing by the toaster while the next piece of bread browned.

My career in restaurants found me cooking bacon by the case. The sheets of bacon were deftly flipped onto sheet pans and cooked in fan blasting convection ovens. Bacon perfume permeated my whites. One whiff and I could be brought to my knees. For the first time I surveyed sheet pans of bacon and could pick the ultimate strip. I was in bacon heaven.

As years have gone by, bacon has shifted from a daily part of my food pyramid to a bi-annual splurge. I salivate for my summer’s BLT and the stray green beans sautéed in bacon fat. At Christmas bacon takes on many guises. It can be found starring in a Sky High Soufflé or enveloping my country pâté. Of course there is always breakfast. My passion for bacon hasn’t lessened but has developed into a deep respect and love for the humble strip. Each salty-meaty bite is a trip down memory lane.

Read, Eat, Enjoy the Strip!

Queen Art-o-Eat

Sunday, August 13, 2006

And the Answer to the Dish Dilemma?

With my NSSP in tow, we went to Crate and Barrel and stroked the dishes.Our eyes kept coming back to these pale-blue dishes and wonders of marital wonders we agreed on them! Life is good!
Their first food was breakfast prepared by the Princess- fried eggs and toast. Even Mr. B. Lightyear, the amazing four-footed Brittany, licked the plate in appreciation. NSSP made breakfast for us- A bacon scrap omelette with a few curls of cheddar chesse and toast with jam.
Welcome Nikko dishes to the Queen's castle!
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The Last Sasaki Meal

The last Sasaki meal was grilled chicken breast, broccoli and cauliflour, and basil pasta salad
-al fresco-
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Thursday, August 10, 2006

The Dish Dilemma

It started as a generous gesture. I offered a set of dishes to Bub, the Princess’s closest and oldest buddy. Finally, I thought, I can justify another set of dishes with the old set going on to college apartment life. We are not a single set family- more like a six set family (I forgot! We had seven sets until last year when #7 went with the Princess to college). Not all sets are complete but there are enough at any time to serve a small army of at least 75.

So why do I need a new set? Why can’t I be happy with five sets? Therein lays the question. You see, it’s not only food that I’m passionate about. It’s the plating, garnishing, and yes the dishes I want to use on any given night to express my feelings toward my family and to showcase the meal.

The everyday workhorse of my sets is a very pale pink Sasaki set. The plates themselves are slightly concave making them perfect for pasta or center presentations I have become a maestro of vertical presentations. Mounds of mashed potatoes studded with alternating green beans and slices of pork tenderloin. Keeping food separate is a bit of a challenge unless it will adhere to the sides. Sauces follow gravity.

Just for the record- I didn’t buy the second set- it was given to me, and how could I refuse a service for eight of Russell Wright American Modern in 4 amazing 1950’s colors? This set has put a new twist on setting a table. Sometimes it is an all one color night (well yes, I have added a few more plates, bowls, serving pieces-I have drawn a line on more cups and saucers), Sometimes it’s very calculated “spontaneous” combinations.Then if I’m particularly annoyed at one part of the triangle I give them the dreaded puke green plate. I usually find the dark turquoise or dusty salmon at my place. Salads look nice in the scoopy grey bowls and the chop plate and salad bowl are to die for!

Set #3 was a calculated purchase. Having been a caterer in the great mid-west I carefully washed more sets of dishes than I care to remember. One event introduced me to Manhattan Glass. Depression glass at its best with a smooth surface and ribbed underside. Food was back lit by the tablecloth and framed by the ridges. It became a must have and I gave two Ben Franklin’s to my favorite antiquing friends who were doing a foraging mission in Michigan. They were men with a goal. To return with a reasonable set of Manhattan’s for $200 or under. It became their quest and I became the owner of a budding collection of Manhattan dishes (did I say budding- well through the years it has become fleshed out with serving platters, large bowls, and sherbet glasses that I call Martini glasses). In the hierarchy of dish to guest these say: “Slightly formal, great care in the meal and its components, good wine, enjoy.” To the family they say, “Mother made a good meal, don’t complain, no elbows on the table, good wine, enjoy-or else.”

Set#4 is my dear Rosenthal. It took me years to decide on a formal set of dishes. Every time I looked Lenox and Wedgwood I imagined the plates with food on them. How would a Thanksgiving dinner look with flowers popping around the edges? Texture? Gilt? Bone? Porcelain? It became too much for me until one day I was stomping around Chicago with Baby Princess strapped to my front. I was sweaty and tired but there was a little china shop just a few steps down. I peered in the window and spied a demitasse cup and saucer. Pushing through the door I was met with cool air and a store full of glassware and dishes. As soon as my eyes found the demi- set I new Rosenthal was for me. There is just the ever so slight decoration around the rim. On the plates it is little blue rectangles that form a “sky scraper”. On the bowls this same design has gold demurely looping through the sky scraper. I was told that Rosenthal brings patterns back and this was a revival pattern. I feel I’m never far from NYC with these dishes. This set is FORMAL- sterling silver-always, good starched table cloth, generous napkins, best behavior, and great wine, ENJOY.

So far we’re talking about complete sets with the never used cups and saucers. My NSSP suggested one day (Oh, silly him!), that I could branch out and just get a few dishes- not a complete set- and that’s where four rectangular green back, cream front and bamboo design plates, came into my clutches. I don’t really consider them part of the set family- only four dishes- but they have become the Sunday Breakfast Dishes. And then there is the placement of the food. Do I cover up the arched bamboo design? Do I use it to separate the fruit from the eggs? Where should the wedges of toast reside? “T’ain’t easy”.

Sets #5 and #6 have been purchased On the Edge. Summertime is a time to enjoy decks and I discovered a Winsome pattern by Franciscan. What caught my eye was the elongated shape-little did I know that I had fallen in love with the rectangular servomg platters but they were perfect for a complete meal on one dish. The plates are big enough for corn, salad Niçoise, or perfectly grilled flank steak. Nothing touches and these burly boys come out and shine in the summer. I have added a couple of side dishes and a divided plate for fresh veggies. Lastly we have a new addition created from a purchase of very swank black bottom, cream top and the Z for Zorro in gold and black brush strokes on the top. How could I pass up $2 a piece and a set of 5? These dishes-and not to be alone- I complemented them with black bowls and triangle black plates from Crate and Barrel: are all about swell times and jaunty drinks. Food selection is crucial, stay away from brown sauces. Salads and fruit go great in the side dishes. Entrees can be artfully arranged on the plates with salsas, curry with condiments, or snow white rice. Silverware is stainless and tablecloths colorful.

And now to replace my Sasaki-I have settled on two patterns at Crate and Barrel and have enlisted my NSSP to give his opinion. One set is the palest of blue with slightly darker blue circles. The second makes a statement. It is dark on the back and a crackled cream front with a studied Asian influence. Which dish will reign supreme?

Any thoughts? Queen Art-o-Eat

Thursday, August 03, 2006

A Dash to San Francisco

We're off this weekend to San Francisco- I'll fill you in on what I find!
Www.ingoodtastestore.com will soon be publishing their August e-mail. I have written a review of Joyce Goldstein's new cookbook, Antipasti lots of tasty treats and good advice from an amazing chef and learned cooking teacher.
Queen Art-o-Eat