Dear Blog Readers:

Yes, I’m still here.  You may have wondered about that since I haven’t posted an entry to my blog The Dinner Diaries of an Intrepid Amateur Chef ( http://dgrunwald.wordpress.com )   since September of 2010.  If you’ve enjoyed the blog I apologize for this.  Presuming you’ve enjoyed my writings, I almost wrote writhings, you deserve better, you deserve consistency in regards to my output. 

However, life does in fact, get in the way.  Work schedules these days don’t leave me the time to cook as elaborately as I’ve done in the past and when It’s Bonnie and I, with a lamb meatloaf  and a mustard herb crust (very good), I don’t have the time to take pictures; we’re hungry and we want to eat.  I’ve written in the past about being able to put a dinner together quickly that’s wholesome and made with real food; not something from a box.  I still cook from scratch and cook some rather elaborate meals for Bonnie and myself, but the photos aren’t done, the blog isn’t posted and most sadly the meal isn’t shared with friends and/or family.  I refuse to post the hotdogs dinners that we sometimes have – not to say that they’re bad. 

Since I began the blog more than 14,000 of you have read its’ posts.  That’s not a huge number as far as some blogs are concerned; I haven’t pushed it out there.  My blog is the proverbial labor of love for me, but don’t think for a minute that ego doesn’t play a role too.  The love of food and cooking, the love and appreciation of family and friendship, the opportunity to highlight my skills (dare I write SHOW OFF!) and the opportunity to pass something on and to thank those who have taught me.  All of these are the muse for the few thousand words that are contained in each post.   Know that I very much appreciate the fact that all of you that have taken the time from your day to read my musings. 

From my perspective as the creator of this blog there is a mystery that has developed with the blog, or more specifically, your selection of the most read posting.  I have access to the blog statistics and they have shown that one particular posting is the most read, obviously.  However, this post is the most read by a long country mile. 

 In relationship to the 14,000 of you that have read the blog there have been more than 2,300 readings of the Summer Dinner Diaries; Sadness, Sweat and Excellence; The Docent Death Marches.  This was posted on August 6, 2010.  All of the other posts have numbers in the hundreds to low thousands. 

I think that this post is good, well written and presents memories that hold much for me.  However, there are many posts that I’m particularly fond of, some more so than this one.  So help me solve my mystery.  Tell me why you’ve found this post more – or less – enticing than the others.  Tell me if there are other posts that you’ve enjoyed more.  Help me to understand why the blog The Dinner Diaries of an Intrepid Amateur Chef continues to chug along despite its current stasis.  I would very much appreciate your insights.

Thank’s,

Dave

Posted in Uncategorized. Tags: . 1 Comment »

Summer’s Over, Let’s Enjoy the Cooking We Can Do in the Upcoming Season!

Dinner Diary                                                                         August 16, 2003

 

 Ah, those main courses that you sometimes get stuck in a rut with making them time and time again until your inner chef says, “Are you so brain-dead that you can only make this one dish?  If you make this again in the next nine months I’m going to instruct your knife hand to cut off your little finger.”

            And so it was with the Silver Palette’s Lemon Chicken.  It’s a wonderful dish, I’ve described it before.  For whatever reason I had made it several times in succession and even I realized that it had been served too often, hence the comment, “again”.  It’s an easy dish to make and can, should, be done ahead.  Yeah, that’s it, I didn’t have enough time!

Well that’s no excuse.  To be good at anything, to learn anything, to progress you’ve got to push yourself.  That most certainly applies to cooking.  So, if you’re tired, go ahead and make that dish for guests once or twice in succession, but promise yourself that the next dinner is going to feature a new dish and it’s going to be exceptional.

 

How To Read A Menu And Impress Your Date 

There was a period of time where Bonnie and I would journey from the hinterlands of New Jersey into the uber urban whirlwind that is New York City.  There is absolutely no place anywhere on earth like New York City, not that I’ve been to many places – but, I’ve seen pictures.  It takes us almost two hours to drive into the City.  As much as Bonnie pleads, I refuse to take the train.  Driving in is a pain in the ass, but the thought of not being able to control where I’m going and when I want to go makes me homicidal.  So I drive. One time we were running late and parked in a ‘forbidden zone’.  We came out of the theater to find that our trunk had been jimmied open and that we had gotten a parking ticket.  God, I love that City.  If they don’t screw you one way, they’ll find another way and if they can get you both ways they most certainly will.

We journeyed to the City somewhat regularly to see Broadway Shows”,  something that I can do entirely without, but that Bonnie loves – bad acting, ridiculous situations, absolutely forgettable tunes.  I’ll pass except for the fact that I love Bonnie.

Broadway Show Dialogue:

Actor #1, “Brother, our father has just died.”

Actor #2, “Well, let’s  just sing a song.”

Actors #1 and #2, “Dad is dead, Dad is dead, Dad is dead” (sung to the tune of some Methodist hymn with a Disney/Elton John twist.   Elton John what happened to you?).

Like I said, I’ll pass. We did get to go to some pretty good restaurants though – the saving grace.  At one point we were fortunate enough to get into Orso. 

No, I don’t remember everything that we had, but I do remember a fantastic carpaccio, good wine, good service, the food was good.  Good, good, good all around. 

Good except for David and the menu.  Let me give all you men out there a lesson on how to impress your date.  Pick up the menu and commence this conversation. 

DAVID,

“God, this is a great menu.  I didn’t think that they’d have this many dishes.”

“I mean look, both sides of these pages”

“Wow, the left side of the page is in Italian.”

“I’ll have to get the waiter to translate some of the dishes.”

“I won’t even know what to order until I get some translations.”

“I mean all the dishes on the right side of the menu are in English and I know what I’d order from there”

“But, the left side is in Italian and I just don’t know what some of the items are.”

BONNIE,

“Honey, the left hand page is the Italian name of the dish.”

“The right hand page is the translation.”

DAVID,

“Oh”

“Waiter, we’re ready to order.”

Great Menu!  Multilingual!

  

Dinner Diary –                                                                       September 22, 1995

  

  

Let’s look at the September 22 entry.  Yea, yea, the ‘Sun Dried Tomato Tapenade on Polenta Triangles’ is interesting and tasted good – tempered by my comments.  Polenta.  I could write love songs about polenta and maybe I will for the next entry.  But we shall discourse on the ‘Baked Oysters and Scallops’.  The recipe is inspired and comes damn close to a dish that we were served at the Black Bass Hotel in Lumberville, Pennsylvania.  Not only a Hotel, but also with a restaurant.  It’s a beautiful place, built in the 1700’s and it looks like it in a very good way.  Absolutely real.  The dining room hugs the banks of a tranquil stretch of the Delaware River and we’ve been lucky enough most times to get a table at a river view window.  Along this particular stretch of river the waters narrow between the restaurant and a small island.  The river here is often shallow, the trees crowd the banks in places and there is quietness about the place.

This, again, is one of those ‘context’ dishes.  Bonnie and I just happened in one day got a river table and had the absolute luck to order this dish.  It was hot, creamy, buttery and with oysters and scallops how could you go wrong. Perfect for the coolness in the air that autumn day.   I often like to challenge myself with trying to replicate, approximate is a better word, dishes that we’ve had in restaurants.  I don’t expect to make a perfect copy, I don’t necessarily want to.  After all, now it’s MY dish.  In this case it was very nice.  No problem, no fuss, top notch ingredients and it did in fact bring back a perfect and unplanned surprise. 

The Black Bass was shut down for a couple of years until whatever needed to be settled was settled.  It is now up and open and garnering rave reviews for the execution of its menu.  Bonnie and I look forward to returning.

 

Black Bass Inn and Hotel

 

A Recent Dinner 

 

 

 

Dessert

One of the many things that I love about cooking is the manner by, if you’re doing it right, you’re connected to the seasons and the passage of time.  If you’re doing it right you have to cook with the seasons.  You have to be aware of what is available to you that’s fresh, that’s been grown in your little part of the world, that hasn’t been shipped halfway around the world to get to your cutting board.  If you live in the northeast you don’t use strawberries in January, you don’t use asparagus in November, you don’t use peaches in February.  You cook with the weather; more hearty meals.  You cook with what your little place on earth is providing you with at the time.  And this is good cooking, scrumptious dishes!

I prefer cooking warm, i.e. wintertime meals, to cold, i.e. summertime meals.  For whatever reason it seems to me that the cold weather meals offer more possibilities than the warm weather meals.  I’m not sure why that is, maybe it’s just me, but for whatever reason I’ve got a much larger repertoire of cold weather menus rather than hot.  And the meals are more hearty, which makes sense, as you’re trying to stay warm.   

So let us look forward to making bread.

Bread from the Oven

And Red Flannel Hash

Red Flannel Hash

And spaghetti and meatballs

Spaghetti with Red Sauce and Meatballs

 

The cooler and colder weather is coming.  Embrace it!  It’s going to be a good time to get a lot of great cooking done.

 

Tuna Overwhelmed, Burned Dog Food, Succotash and Poulet Flambe

Dinner Diary                                                                         August 21, 1993

 

 

Sometimes the meds just don’t do their job and I go a little wacky, a little extreme. 

What’s extreme here is, as I have written, the stuffed swordfish.  The salad is a classic, I’m sure that all of us loved it.  Yellow squash and leeks, how could my guests not loved it? That’s a rhetorical question.  The fact is, as written, the yellow squash with leeks was ‘not a mover’.  On occasion vegetables are sometimes a tough sell.  The swordfish steaks?  I can see them in my mind to this day.  Really, really stuffed – bulging like a tennis ball had been inserted into them.  One solid pound of stuffed fish per serving.  How could I have possibly not cooked them until they were properly done?  They were overwhelming in that the portions were ridiculously large and the seasonings were too strong; burying the taste of the fish and clams.   Poor Rick and Brenda (yes, they’re the couple that suffered through the soft shell crabs too); as the song says, “you always hurt the one(s) you love”.  A nice menu, just a little “too overwhelming”.   

The thing is that you CANNOT be afraid to try new things.  If it comes out badly, no one’s going to get hurt; no one’s going to die – usually.  And if you don’t try, you’ll never know just how great you can be. 

And by God, Bonnie made dessert, though I’m certain that I was the one that added the rum peaches with the vanilla ice cream.  How nice a dessert is that!?  Sour cream, lemon, cake, rummed peaches and vanilla ice cream – and on a summer’s day yet!  Perfection.   

I gotta’ let Bonnie cook more for the dinners.  She’s good and I’m getting old.  Excuse me, oldER.  Not dead yet!!  

 

Burned Dog Food At High Noon 

I honestly don’t mind my friends serve me hot dogs and beans.  You know that I appreciate a good hotdog.  I don’t require a four star meal to enjoy my friends company.   I do want to be served food that has good ingredients and has been properly cooked.  I’ve been served “stuff” that I can’t even label as edible.  One memorable occasion involved a gathering in a location that I consider an epicurean no man’s land.  I shall presume that living in such an area creates a culinary Bermuda Triangle.  Good food disappears leaving frozen miniature weenies wrapped in, what the manufacturer calls, dough.  The event was a ‘barbeque’ – God, how often does the actual meaning of that word get slaughtered with grilled hamburgers – store made – and bad hot dogs, absolutely forgettable green salads with bottled salad dressings, potato salad with a cup of sugar in it, Jello and marshmallow molds that set my stomach churning when I look at them and God knows what other horrors.  The matron of the house was ‘cooking something’ on the stove top when we arrived.  

I swear to God that she was cooking dog food, but she kept saying that it was something else – and – there wasn’t even enough of this dog food for everybody to have some.  She asked me to taste it because she was told that I liked to cook.  I smelled it; it was dog food – BURNED. I figured that if she had the nerve to offer me this crap than I had the nerve to take a small taste, so I did. 

With that single taste I suddenly felt as if my spirit had left my body to travel to another time and place.  The green grass, leafed trees and screaming children fading, fading, fading …………   

And so there the two of us were, the noon sun directly overhead, on a dusty main street in a frontier town, the shopkeepers, womenfolk and children, drunks and Indians peering through the store and saloon windows at the matron and I; Mano a Womano.  She asked how I liked it – I said that it was interesting (I was trying to be polite for my wife’s sake).  She asked again – I said that I had never tasted anything like it (still being polite).  

By this time the crowd in the stores and the saloon were restless and edgy.  They had caught the scent of blood on the single dying breeze.  Blood was about to flow, but whose blood?  I wasn’t restless or edgy.  I was appalled and angry at this woman’s so called cooking.   She asked again – what did I really think of it?   One of her youngins, sensing that we were about to draw pistols, tried to get the matron to move on, to let her hand fall away from the butt of the pistol, turn around, get on her horse and ride out of town.  No luck. 

She asked me yet again.  I had just eaten burned dog food, tried to be polite and wasn’t getting anywhere.  So ….. Faster than lightening, I drew my pistol, told her, “IT TASTES LIKE BURNED DOG FOOD” and fired.   There was a quick, painful and gasping, intake of breath from the crowd and then silence.  The matron sniffled a couple of times, gut shot, and, as she sank to her knees on that dusty frontier street, gasped out, “My family likes it” (the father’s dead, I can only guess the cause).  Gamely, staggering back to her feet, she turned back to the stove to continue burning the dog food.  No, I haven’t been invited back – sometimes you just get lucky.  

An aside, three worthy phrases that are a serviceable response to many situations: “it’s very interesting”, “I’ve never seen/tasted anything like this” and “My, isn’t that different”.

 

 

DRAW!

 

 Dinner Diary                                                                         September 1, 1997

 

 

Succotash is another ‘Top 5’ dish in the 50 or so dishes that make up my ‘Top 5’.  Another triumph for Mr. White.  I love this so much that I could probably keep eating it until I exploded.  Bonnie doesn’t rrreeeaaallllyyy like vegetables, no matter what she may say.  So, when I tasted this creation and she came in to the kitchen to find me rolling on the floor and speaking in tongues, she had no idea what the fuss was about.  I truly like lima beans and when you add cream, bacon and FRESH JERSEY CORN to it – I was in heaven.  This is a true Native American dish.  I have to wonder that if they were so absolutely gifted as to come up with this, and two dozen other great dishes, How the hell did they lose their paradise to some limeys that BOILED  lamb?   

 

Poulet Flambé And Rick The Cat Tries To Age Game 

I considered getting my first propane grill a really big deal.  To begin with, we had a house of our own and I did not need to hang the grill out the second floor window.  I had no concerns regarding the neighbors – well, few concerns regarding the neighbors.  How cool was this?!?!  I was going to be able to come home from work, light the propane grill and start cooking.  No longer would I have to come home, put the hardwood charcoal in the Weber, light them and wait and wait until I could begin cooking – by the light of a flashlight duct taped to the side of my head. 

Propane versus hardwood charcoal.  To me the hardwood wins hands down, because there’s nothing like cooking over something that’s real wood and a real high searing heat.  But, when I’m short for time, Hank Hill and I are on the same team.  I know, he’s a cartoon character. 

I was surprised to find that there was a learning curve involved with using the propane grill.  I’m surprised by so many things in life.  You’d have thought that the lesson sunk in way back with the first hibachi.  But I’m a little bit dense, sometimes absolutely clueless, so the inaugural propane grilled dinner found me at square one – I just didn’t know it.  That night, the first food to be propane grilled was chicken.  Can’t be hard as I’ve done it a million times before.  Fire that sucker up with a simple twist of a knob and a click of the igniter and WE’VE GOT FLAMES!  No, not burn down the house flames (am I disappointing you?), but good old grilling flames somewhere under those doohickey ‘flavorizer bars’.  Leave it for a few minutes to get hot enough and put that chicken on!  Dinner in 30 to 40 minutes.  I figured that I had enough time to go inside and make the martini, kiss the wife, get the salad fixin’s ready and go back to the grill. 

BACK TO THE GRILL – from whence are issuing billows of black smoke (thoughts of Philly) from the edges of the grill cover. OPEN the grill cover and find – Poulet Flambé!   I had done it!  Another authentic French dish!  You should have seen them blazing in all their glory, each individual piece of chicken ablaze like the torches that they’re carrying in the Frankenstein movie when they go to hunt the monster down.  These were not Tiki Torch flames. 

These were full on we-can-go-through-the-cave-with-this-and-keep-back-the- monsters flames.  I gingerly picked up one of the chicken torches with a pair of tongs, brought it to the back door and rang the doorbell to summon Bonnie for the viewing.  Bonnie came to the door, looked only a bit surprised, started laughing and closed the door.

Moderation in all things serves one well, especially in regard to grilling temperatures for chicken, and kids – never leave the grill untended.

One of our cats of the moment, Rick, also took a liking to the grill.  Enough so that he attempted to exclude me entirely and make it his own.  The weather hadn’t been favorable for grilling, Bonnie and I went out for dinners for whatever reason and I just hadn’t used the grill for about a week.  Very unusual for me at anytime of year – including winter.  So the grill had been unused for a while, just sitting there with the grill cover on to protect the stains of spilled bar-b-q sauce and various food fats from the weather.  The dinner came where it was time for me to put the grill back in action again.  I lifted the grill cover off – and promptly threw up many, many, many times. 

Oh that rascally cat!  In an attempt to emulate the culinary skills of his provider, Rick had decided that the best place that he could age the meat that he was catching (rabbits, squirrels and mice) was on the floor of the grill, nicely guarded from prying eyes, competitors and the elements by the grill cover.  All that nice wild meat aging away and picking up that hint of ‘gaminess’ that I cherish.  Rick had much to learn about aging meat as evidenced by the fact that most of his victuals had ‘aged’ to the point that they had liquefied.  Eventually I had to hit the grill with the power washer.  Oh, did I tell you that this took place in August?  Hot, hot August.  Rick’s gone now, but will never be forgotten.

Dessert  -  Labor Day

William Grimes is a writer for the New York Times.  To define him in those few words is an injustice to the scope of Mr. Grime’s literary talents.  He has written for many departments of the newspaper including, currently, the obituaries, and as restaurant critic.  On September 2 of 1994 he wrote a short missive for the weekend section of the paper.  The missive presents his thoughts regarding Labor Day.  I have always made a point of reading it on Labor Day and I have always enjoyed.  May you enjoy it also, Happy Labor Day!

SUMMER’S LAST HURRAH

Labor Day pulls you in two directions.  The unmistakable whiff of cooler weather – yes, it’s out there even if the thermometer lies and reads 90 – is a preview of coming attractions, a teaser for full-tilt fall, when leaves die but New York City comes to life.  At the same time, shorter days and longer shadows cast a melancholy spell, and put me in an elegiac mood.

Either way, the summer-ending three-day weekend demands a response.  Who can blame America for scrambling to snatch the last morsel of pleasure from the season’s closing jaws?  This is it.  The party is over.  Summer is gone.  We shall not see its likes again for nine long months.

Three days is cruelly brief, but time enough for a last-chance family outing.  Fall and winter will be work, work and more work.  On Labor Day weekend, there is no excuse not to have fun, fun, fun.  Mindless fun is best, simple pleasures the most reliable.  Ride a roller coaster.  Grill hot dogs.  Drink beer.  Take in a country fair.  Check out a music festival.  Stroll along the boardwalk.  Inhale deeply and savor the air.  Don’t think too hard.

If the season’s end seems tinged with sadness, indulge the mood.  There’s nothing like a walk along the beach for the philosophically inclined.  The sharp contrast between Memorial Day and Labor Day offers ample food for thought.  Suggested topics include the transience of human joys, the mysterious poignancy in the passage of time, the vanity of human wishes.

The endless procession of waves serves as a reminder that nothing endures, yet everything returns.  Summer goes, summer will come around again.  The beach will be waiting.

 

SEPTEMBER, CAPE COD BAY

The Bounty of the Season, Moral Bankruptcy & Tomatoes, Smoking and Roast Chicken

Dinner Diary                                                                         July 14, 2006

 

This is tasty.  You can’t get away with using anything less than the best ingredients with these dishes.  For the corn tomato cream sauce:

-          Have everything ready to go; ‘mise en place’.  Shallots diced fine, corn off the cob, tomatoes coarsely chopped, scallops dried, salad greens washed and dried, rice already cooking slowly.

-          Sautee the shallots in butter.

-          Add the vermouth and cream; enough to be able to reduce it until it’s got some body to it after it’s simmered a bit.

-          Add the tomatoes and cook just until they’ve given up some liquid and the sauce has body again.

-          Add the corn and cook till everything is just warmed through.

-          Add the seasoning and keep this sauce warm.

-          Get a pan really hot, put some butter in it and sauté the salted and peppered scallops until they’ve browned up nicely – cook them longer than 2 minutes or so per side, assuming that they’re large, and I’ll hunt you down.

-          The rice is finished.  The liquid that you’ve been boiling it in had saffron in it right?

-          The salad has been plated and dressed.

-          A nicely chilled wine is on the dinner table.

-          QUICK, QUICK, QUICK, QUICK!

-          Sauce on the plates, scallops atop the sauce, saffroned rice artfully placed at the edge of the sauce (NO! not a damn ring of it – use some imagination), salad and main course to the table.

-          You and your sweetie give each other a nice swift little kiss.

-          Enjoy.

 

It is in fact a ‘company dinner’.  One of those dishes or menus worthy of being served to our friends.

 

 SEARED SCALLOPS ATOP THE CORN AND TOMATO SAUCE, SAFFRONED RICE AND A SOFT SHELL CRAB ALONG FOR THE RIDE

(OK, there’s no imagination in the plating of the rice)

 

 Moral Bankruptcy And Too Many Tomatoes

Bonnie and I have only had one ‘knockdown food fight’ in more than 20 years of being together – so far. 

It was a hot and humid summer evening.  I had been unemployed or barely employed as a consultant for some time and the situation was beginning to wear on both Bonnie and me.  Usually we can weather the really down moments because one of us will bring the other one up, but when we’re both having a really down moment; it’s a bit tougher to push on through.

I was moping about the house feeling desperate and frustrated.  Upon my saying that I would do anything  for money, Bonnie, failing to see my perspective (that perspective being a future bereft of martinis, steak and wine and living in a refrigerator packing box over a subway grate – alone), accused me of being morally bankrupt!  She was right in saying so; at that moment I was ready to do almost anything (no photos – well maybe if they were really grainy it would be OK) to get some money in my pocket. 

Timing is everything.  It was full summer and the tomato crop was at its height.  As Bonnie and I both like tomatoes, we had many in the house.  The tomatoes were being eaten and canned so there were more around than would normally be.  Big, bright red, juicy tomatoes mounded high in bowls, covering the kitchen counters.  Heat, humidity, desperation, frustration – the alarm clock on the bomb ticking the seconds off     until the second hand hit 12:00 and Bonnie exploded, choosing to vent her anger at my moral bankruptcy by   

FLINGING THE TOMATOES AT ME!  REALLY RIPE TOMATOES!

Pick up a fair size tomato in your hand and bounce it around a bit.  Pretty hefty heh?  Only a little smaller than a softball.  The first one that she threw whistled past me and hit the wall behind me so hard that I thought that it had made a hole in the wall.  The main ‘splatter diameter’ (watch CSI) was easily 5 feet, juice and seeds going far beyond that.  She was just warming up.  Poor, frustrated Bonnie, the tears did not hinder her aim.  The second one hit my forehead.  It felt as if I had gotten hit with a brick; there was tomato juice running in my eyes, I saw seeds everywhere and it had ricocheted from my forehead to the kitchen ceiling.  All this time I’m pleading, “Honey, I didn’t mean it, stop throwing the tomatoes and let’s talk.”  No effect – this was a lot of pent up frustration being let loose.  The third tomato hit the refrigerator door and dented it a little.  There were more tomatoes thrown, all hitting me and various other things in the kitchen – walls appliances, tables, stove.  I prayed to God that she wouldn’t score a direct hit on my face.  My forehead is as hard as a rock, but my beautiful nose!  Please don’t let a hard tomato break it!  Man was she ever angry!  Fast!  Furious!  A storm of tomatoes!  The spray of the juice was tremendous and unpredictable and the kitchen air was perfumed with the summer scent of tomatoes – a very strong scent.  Actually the air was not so much perfumed with the scent of tomatoes, as perfumed, and hazy, with the spray of tomatoes.     It did not end quickly, but end it did – we were out of tomatoes.  Claiming the higher ground, which is often worthless real estate, I can say that I did not throw one tomato.  She was right to call me on my moral bankruptcy.  Never give up, never surrender. 

For those of you who haven’t experienced something like this, I can tell you that it clears the air regarding your relationship and puts priorities in order.  It also sets you up for a house cleaning that will stretch into months.  So much so that many months later you will find tomato juice stains, skin and seeds in places that you didn’t even know that you, or your home, had.  And in the end I cooked something, and we continued down our road.

TOMATOES  -  LOTS OF TOMATOES

 

Dinner Diary                                                                         August 20, 1994

 

 

 After I had finished ‘playing’ with the new smoker, I removed the various components until I was down to the bed of still glowing coals.  At that precise instant two baby squirrels in the tree above the smoker decided to make their first attempt at getting out of their nest.  Of course, they landed directly on the glowing coals.  I stood there for a split second but, then, did what I knew that I had to do – I reached in with my bare hands, cupped my hands beneath each of them and brought them from the coals.  Yes, my pain was excruciating, but the babies were out of the coals.  They were scared, they were on fire and they ran up and down my arms in their panic.  I finally smothered their flames with the water in the nearby birdbath and the babies ran back up the tree to join their mother.  But by then the damage had been done to my arms and hands.  I was in a daze, the pain intense, my eyes saw the world fade to black and there was a roaring in my ears; a voice in the distance was saying something.  Indistinguishable at first but getting louder and clearer each time I heard it.  Finally that sweet voice, “David, David, your cranberry-orange tea breads are done.” 

Thrashing about in the bed, covered with a cold sweat and shaking, the sweet demons voice receding in the reality of the morning, I awoke screaming from this recurring nightmare.

I really enjoy smoking things, including various foodstuffs.  I had not intended to smoke, or make charcoal out of, the cranberry-orange tea breads.  I found out early on that you can, in fact, smoke foods too much.  So much so that you are tasting nothing except smoke.  So, as with all things, moderation and a light touch where need be.  The scallops in particular were indescribably good.  Well, not at all indescribable:  the taste of the smoke mixed quite wonderfully with the salt of the sea and the richness of the scallop meat.  I was inspired to ‘smoke’ as a result of the superbly smoked victuals that we purchased, and devoured, from Hatch’s Seafood in Wellfleet. These smoked loverlies included but are not limited to: scallops, bluefish, salmon, shrimp and swordfish.  They are all superbly smoked.  Eat them as an appetizer, make a spread out of them (or buy Hatch’s spreads), use them sparingly in soups, toss them with pasta. 

When you’re lucky, you can stand in the parking lot in front of the store and get a contact high by inhaling the glorious fragrance of their efforts.  It really is a nice pastime.  You’re standing there on a sunny day, a little bit of wind, blue sky above, white clapboard sheathed New England town hall – including steeple – beside the parking lot and the salt taste and smell of the sea in air – all mingled with the smoky, but not too smoky, fragrance of Hatch’s best efforts.  I lean on the side of our car with a big stupid grin on my face.   I’m pretty good at the smoker – Hatch’s is great.   

 

WELLFLEET TOWN HALL

 

 

Dessert – Roast Chicken

I’ve been on a quest to make the perfect roast chicken for some time now.  As with the most simple of items or tasks it’s often easy enough to just ‘do it’, but very hard to do it well.  You can’t hide the chicken behind something else, if you’re serving roast chicken even a sauce or gravy won’t cover up a poorly roasted bird.  I’ve deduced some truths that work for me in creating the perfectly baked chicken.  These truths work for me, maybe other truths work for you.

  1. Buy the best chicken that you can afford.  In our area that usually means Bell and Evans (at the local super market) or the Griggstown Quail Farm (north of Princeton and online).  I’ve spent ridiculous sums of money for chickens at the local farms in our area, but you can’t always justify spending $20 for a four pound organically raised chicken.  As for Purdue, Tyson or any of the other factory farms stay far, far away from them.  You can’t farm something that’s healthy and tasteful if you’re ‘farming’ thousands of them at a time.  Also, a ‘real’ chicken should weigh in at about 4 pounds or so – not 6, or 7, or 8 pounds – that’s a chicken on steroids.
  2. I dry my chicken, I don’t brine it.  On the morning of the day that I’m roasting the chicken I unwrap it from its packaging, wipe it with a damp paper towel, put it on a platter and put it back into the fridge.  The theory being that the blowing air from our self-defrosting refrigerators will dry out the skin and give it a leg up on crisping up.  I’ve tried brining.  What it’s gotten me, fowl or meat, is mushy flesh with none of the brine flavors.  I know that many of you will disagree.  You do that.  Go right ahead.
  3. A simple seasoning: a little soft butter on the skin to brown, kosher salt and black pepper – that’s it.  I rub the walls of the breast cavity with salt and pepper and stuff the breast cavity with whatever hard fruit I’ve got lying around: half a lemon and half a granny smith apple, maybe some herbs if I have them.  My theory on this is that the fruit will provide enough moisture as the chicken roasts so that the ‘underside’ as it were of the breast meat will not dry out.  Maybe I’m dreaming, but it seems to work.  I also truss the chicken, again, so that the breast cavity retains some moisture.
  4.  Take the chicken out of the fridge about a half hour before you plan on cooking it so that it can get close to room temperature.
  5. My game plan for the roasting, for a chicken that weighs in at about 4 pounds, is: a preheated 400° oven, 10 minutes at 400°, turn the heat down to 375° and continue to roast for about one and one half hours.  There’s no reason to open the oven door during this time.  When the time has elapsed take the chicken out and test its thigh meat with an instant read thermometer; you want to see 180°.     If the thermometer shows 180° I put the chicken back into the oven for a breath or two.  I’ve always found that it’s always better to go just a little bit longer.  Take the chicken out again and prick it’s thigh with a sharply pointed knife.  You want to see the juices run clear with just the slightest, slightest, hint of pink.  If it ain’t that way then back in it goes for another breath or two or what have you until the juices are the right color.
  6. Remove the chicken from the oven when it’s ready and let it rest for at least 15 minutes, 20 minutes is better.  It won’t cool down too much and the meat will suck back in the juices that were expelled under heat.
  7. Carve away and best of luck to you.  Each chicken and each oven is different so don’t be afraid to begin your own quest for your perfectly roasted chicken.

 

            A WELL ROASTED CHICKEN

Summer Dinner Diaries; Sadness, Sweat and Excellence; The Docent Death Marches

Dinner Diary                                                                                     August 8, 1987

 

 

Restrained, not restrained, restrained, not restrained.  Maybe I’m bi-polar or manic-depressive?  There’s got to be something to account for the swings.  Swings of what?  Why swings of ‘just right’ or ‘too much’ regarding the number of dishes.   In this case I think that it’s a pretty good menu.  As for those same old boring cheese and crackers; don’t let yourself get into that habit. 

Mark and Kris’s names have appeared in these diaries many times, but I don’t remember who “Julie” is.  Though I have not remembered who she is, she is immortalized in the diary pages. 

Tomato (spelled with an ‘e’?), basil and mozzarella is a classic and I think that the balsamic is a nice touch.  I used to waste a lot of time growing tomatoes and just recently started wasting time doing this again.  It’s a senseless act as living in New Jersey we have daily access to very, very good, nay GREAT, tomatoes in the farm stands.   The ‘salmon steaks in grape leaves’ is interesting, tasty and a good presentation.  Bonnie and I owned a home in Hopewell Township and on the grounds  I had constructed a small arbor and planted a couple of grape plants to use the leaves for cooking and to make jams and jellies from the grapes.  I actually made grape jelly from my grapes – once.  The jelly never set up, but unbeknownst at the time this was the precursor of the career that is to be – Dave’s Sweets and Savories.

 

The Grape Leaf

 

The grape leaves were easily big enough to wrap a salmon steak, one leaf on one side and one on the other side fastened, damn nicely tied, with wet cord.  It does in fact keep the fish moist.  I don’t know that you need the butter; olive oil would work as well.  The dessert parfaits are a classic.  A red, white and blue salute to the season’s bounty.    In the good old summer time.   In the good old summer time.  Dinners on the deck, watching the light slowly fade, sitting back and actually relaxing (except for the cook – I relax after it’s been served), and being spellbound by the firefly fireworks in the darkness.   

Bonnie and I have a wonderful memory of watching a most spectacular firefly performance.  There was a midsummer night when the large field across from our home was made magic by the light of a million, million fireflies.  So many that at times they seemed to form a solid wall of coolly glowing light.   Blinking and blinking and blinking their summer light until our eyes saw the animated constellations of firefly lit earth and the void of the night black sky trade places. 

 

Yes, these are Fireflies mating – I couldn’t resist

 

Sadness, Sweat And Excellence

For better or worse restaurants come and go.  One of our favorites, no longer to be enjoyed, was Cielo’s on the Cape.  This was exactly the type of restaurant that I’d like to own.  The restaurant was located in a portion of a classic, time and weather aged gray, wood shingled home.  This home was on the very edge of a vast bayside marsh.  Wrapped with trees and reflected in the shallows, it looked as if it was the progeny of land and salt marsh.  The view from the dining room looked across an infinite vista of sky, waving grasses, and wind shattered water towards a setting sun.  When the setting sun and the breezes worked in concert the surface of the water became dancing flames.  Cielo’s was not only a restaurant, but also a small art gallery with the various works of the moment scattered about the walls and sitting on pedestals.  I still recall a simple yellow glass bowl that was intricately and beautifully etched that I hesitated too long in deciding whether or not to buy. 

Cielo’s was run by two gentleman that obviously cared very much about doing things right.  Right is not necessarily fussy.  Right is ….. Right (is that a line from some De Nero movie?)  The dining space was small, but the tables were not crowded; maybe there were eight or ten, perfectly set.  The art work was comfortable in the room, not at all obtrusive, but complimenting the space.  The food, both imaginative and classic, always perfectly prepared with the finest ingredients. Bonnie and I always felt special eating here.  There was always a wisp of magic and wonder in the air.  It was in the 1980’s, but when you ate there men wore blue blazers to dinner and women dressed up – not necessarily ties with the blazers and no stockings for the women, but more nicely dressed than you would for many other venues .  Candlelit tables.  No t-shirts.   The best part was that the restaurant served dinner four nights a week with no choice of dishes on the menu.  The menu courses were set for each evening, no substitutions, no choosing from column ‘A’ or column ‘B’.  You’d call ahead to find out the given menu for the given night and if you didn’t like it tough tooties kiddo. 

We had heard that one of the gentlemen had died and when we went up the following season the restaurant had closed.  We felt that we had lost several friends, the gentlemen and the restaurant.  Just last year Bonnie and I walked into a gallery in Provincetown and behind the desk – the remaining gentlemen.  I remembered him after God knows how many years, he certainly didn’t remember us.  I told him how we held wonderful memories of him, his partner and Cielo’s in our hearts, that we were sorry for his loss and thankful that we had had the wonderful luck to experience all that Cielo’s had been.  All of us got a little teary, talked a little about ‘the old days’, we hugged and then moved on.  Always watch for, take pleasure in, remember, and be thankful for, the small wonders that make up so much of life.

Fire On The Water

 

Interestingly, just down the road from Cielo’s was another restaurant that Bonnie and I have visited at least a few times. Our mistake on this one occasion can be blamed on the weather …… oh, and my stubbornness.  We had gone up to the Cape that year in the middle of the summer and while we were there the weather was beautiful but it was hot, hot, hot.  One real scorcher of an evening I talked Bonnie into going out for dinner saying that it was too hot to cook.  She agreed, not readily, saying, “way too hot to cook, way too hot to sit in a restaurant, let’s just get takeout from somewhere, get naked, eat on the secluded deck and see where this all leads.”  I am such a fool sometimes – I insisted on going out.  The restaurant is a good restaurant, good food and, taking advantage of the Wellfleet location, has a great raw bar.  Bonnie and I are crazy for good raw bars, good absolutely fresh shellfish.  Wellfleet Oysters are incredible!  Nice a briny/sweet tastes – the tastes of the ocean, the sea breeze, seagull’s cries – summer.   

You can easily spot Bonnie and me at company picnics and one really great wedding with an awesome raw bar, thank you Matt and Gina.  At these events Bonnie and I are the couple that run to the raw bar, get a plateful of the best that they got, make a pretense of letting others enjoy the table by standing two feet away and finally abandon any pretense at civility and stand at the table eating the delicacies almost to the exclusion of any other food, almost.  Not like those wacky old people with their luggage size purse and stolen wheels of brie from gallery openings – after all we don’t take any home with us.

So on an evening when the temperature was still in the 80’s at 7:30 PM we arrived at the restaurant and were seated.  Despite the fact that this is a good restaurant they surprised us by committing, what we consider, an unpardonable offence.  We ordered a Caesar Salad and then asked our standard Caesar Salad questions: “Is it made with Romaine lettuce, raw eggs, anchovies, Worcestershire Sauce, parmesan cheese croutons and a spritz of lemon juice?”  No?  Then it ain’t Caesar Salad!  The standard answer from the wait staff is that people don’t like raw eggs, don’t like anchovies and don’t like Christmas.  My standard response, “SCREW ‘EM”.  Let them eat another salad and give me the real thing.  So the meal didn’t start on a positive note.  Bonnie’s saying that we can still go home, “we ordered, haven’t eaten anything yet and it’s really hot.”  I’m being a bit bullheaded, out of character I know, and saying that everything’s fine.  OK, maybe there were 2 or 3 beads of sweat on my forehead.  Maybe it was pretty damned warm in this low ceilinged room without air conditioning or a hint of a breeze.  As we sat there my body betrayed me, giving in to the temperature.  Slowly, but with ever increasing speed, an area of sweat, soaking through my shirt, started at – the tops of my shoulders.  Bonnie watched in fascination as these two spots grew and grew, and grew.  Spreading down both arms and down the front and back of my shirt until my entire shirt was soaked in sweat.

Me, “Waiter could you please wrap the food to go, we’ll be leaving now.”

Him, “I s everything alright sir, you seem to be a bit – wet.”

Me, “Oh, yes, everything is just fine!  A little hot, eh?”

Bonnie, saying nothing, only giggling and saying to herself, “Too Hot!  Too Hot!  Told you so, told you so, told you so!”

She can be a beast when she’s right.     

For every thousand restaurants like the national chain restaurant that’s located in your nearest shopping mall, there’s a restaurant like Chester.   Chester was located in Provincetown.  Unfortunately it closed last year and Bonnie and I will have to look very hard to find its equal up in that area of the Cape.  Many good restaurants, few that are as outstanding as Chester.  It was a nicely converted older house on the busy main street.  When you entered the noise of the street vanished and you were in simple but elegant surroundings glowing with a soft filtered light.  Nothing at all flashy, tables not too crowded, a bit hushed.  A beautiful primary color painting of the owner’s dog; a wire haired terrier named Chester on the main wall.  I kept asking to buy it – he kept saying no.  Excellent, imaginative food that was perfectly cooked and served. A bartender that knew how to make my martinis and Bonnie’s Campari with club soda. 

I’m often horrible at remembering specific dishes served during a restaurant meal, but in the case of Chester I do in fact remember – Cheesecake with Poached Figs and Pistachio Pralines.  It is the only recipe that I’ve ever asked the chef for.  Yes, there are others that I should have asked for.  Jay Coburn, the chef, was kind enough to give it to me.  He said, “This recipe is adapted from Claudia Fleming’s ‘Last Course Cookbook’ published a few years ago.  It is, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant cookbooks published in many years.”  High praise and worthy of the dish and Jay’s execution of it.  The cheesecake is made with goat cheese and mascarpone, so it has a nice tang to it rather than being too sweet as many cheesecakes are.  Very nice with a firm/creamy texture (no ricotta here, though ricotta does have its place in the cheese cake pantheon).  The adornment of the poached figs and pralines are the perfect counter to the cake, crunchy, boozy and sweet.

           It’s in the same league as Maida Heatter’s Lemon Mousse.

Bonnie and I have found Chester’s replacement, but I’m not telling you the name of that restaurant.  It’s tough enough to get reservations as it is.

Chester As It Was

 

Dinner Diary                                                                         June 12, 2004

 

This is a wonderful menu, shared with a wonderful group of people, a good group of friends, on a wonderful evening and those are the reasons that it’s such a shame that the evening took on such a polemic cast.   

Seasonal, good flavors, nice little attractive trick with seasoning the lamb, intermezzo of the melon granite,  good combo of the cannelloni, shallots, red peppers and fennel.  I’ve written of many of these dishes in previous diaries. 

As I’ve written in the diary, ‘politics intrudes’.   The politics of most of my friends are the opposite of mine.  At this particular dinner, for whatever reason, those differences manifest themselves in a loud and long argument.  Too bad, it spoiled dinner.  Bonnie has made me learn to respond with the following phrase, “That’s an interesting point.  Can I get you more coffee?”  I have learned to ignore what I consider the politically irrational thoughts of so many of our friends.  I invited these friends of mine to dinner and it is my duty and privilege to serve them a good meal and to encourage a fun evening.  So now I easily swallow and ignore some things that are said; it’s more important to remember that these folks are indeed my friends.

 

The Docent Death Marches

Elizabeth, our Docent Training Instructor, can’t blame me for coming up with the phrase, The Docent Death Marches.  It’s Jerry who came up with the phrase.  I’m putting both the blame and high praise on him, because the phrase so perfectly describes our ‘instructive-multiple times in a single day-100+ degree temperature-80% humidity-Docent tours’.

I recently completed my Docent training at Grounds For Sculpture.  This is not so much a story about food, though we will get to that, as it is about learning and the serendipity of finding yourself in the midst of a wonderful group of folks who, over time, become friends.  As I am something of a hermit this is an especially important story, life lesson, for me.

For those of you who are unaware of Grounds For Sculpture (GFS) I will tell you that it is thirty-five acres of the most beautiful contemporary sculpture park and awe inspiring  arboretum that I have ever seen in my entire life.  It is located in Hamilton Township, Mercer County, New Jersey.  GFS is an outrageously large dream brought into existence by the vision, determination and abilities of the world famous sculptor Seward Johnson and  I love him for this.

The Docent training equipped us students with the knowledge to lead visitors through GFS: explaining its history, the landscaping, the lives and visions of the sculptors whose works grace the grounds, the specifics of the sculptures themselves and, most importantly, assisting those visitors to discover for themselves what they see and feel about the sculptures before them.  

So back to the Docent classes and my classmates.  I have found it rare that a group of folks, who have never known one another prior to the class, can bond as quickly as our class did.  Our group was small and that may have lent to our quick bonding.  The class was an intense 8 weeks, one day a week class.  Reports and presentations were due, often more than once, at each of our classes.  This is not to say that we didn’t have fun doing this.  During  the time our course was held we suffered all of the trials and tribulations of life: loved ones passing, injuries (Cindy finished most of the class with a broken foot in a cast), surgeries, a daughter getting married (though none of us were invited we’ll overlook that slight), family pets passing (this is the same as family passing), pregnancies, working a full time job and yet squeezing the course in (you go Ximena!), Cassandra (also working full time at GFS) who was learning to take on this position and was proficient enough to take over when need be, Dave Burchell (the Docents’ Docent) for genially imparting his wisdom and most of all to Elizabeth – her first time teaching the course.  The ‘deer in the headlights look’ didn’t last past the middle of the first day.  She did a wonderful job of instilling in us what it meant to be a Docent and I will always love her for that.   I’ll look forward to seeing my new friends again.  What a time it was.

One Of My Favorites: Seward Johnson’s, King Lear

 

THE FOOD!  Our last day of class was one of those rounds of 100+ degree temperatures-multi walks-80% humidity tours.  I’m looking to get T-Shirts made that are printed with the phrase, “Docent Death March – I Survived Docent Training Summer 2010”.  Despite the fact that we all had sunstroke we managed to eat the following:

-          Great Hoagies/Subs/Grinders (I’m from Connecticut, lived in Rhode Island and Philadelphia and still don’t know what to call these things).

-          Beef Empanadas

-          Arros Con Pollo

-          Cold Lemon Chicken

-          Watermelon Salad

-          Skirt Steak Salad with Sweet and Sour Onions

-          Grilled Curried Shrimp and Grapes

-          Taco Chips with Dave’s Salsa

-          Cakes and Cookies Too Numerous To Mention Individually

-          No alcohol!!!!!!!!!!!!!  No Piná Coladas!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  No Long Island Ice Teas!!!!!!!!  No Gin and Tonic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  No Martinis!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  No Beer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   However, after wondering through the grounds in the heat and humidity drinking a gallon of sweetened ice tea was most welcomed.

Big burp and a turgid afternoon – at least for me.

What a time it was!

MORE SUMMER DINNER DIARIES AND BACK TO THE CAPE

Dinner Diary                                                                         June 2, 2007

 

Once upon a time I spoiled a dinner party by letting politics intrude.  Many of the folks at the June 2 dinner party had been present and I vowed not to let that happen again.  No heavy duty political ‘discussions’ we simply appreciated and loved each other for who we are.  Unfortunately the dinner was held to say goodbye to those who were leaving the area.  That, perhaps, increased the intensity of our revels.  The menu is what I consider one of my classics; smoked trout spread, grilled shrimp and grapes, herbed goat cheese (my recipe), the Silver Palette Lemon Chicken, potato salad (very close to mom’s – I’m almost there), Cole slaw and strawberry shortcake.    

We were really in a festive mood. Trying to stave off the sadness of friends leaving and life changing, as it always does, so it was party hearty cause you never know where the grim reaper lurks.  Well, not that fatalistic, but we did ‘party’.   

The partying was inspired in no small degree by Gina’s contribution of about a gallon and a half of Mojito’s.  Is that a great summertime drink or what!?  Our group was introduced to Mojito’s at a food tasting with a variety of restaurants.  One of the establishments was serving this loverly drink.  We tried it, found that we liked it, stood in line for it, got the drink, went to the back of the line, drank the drink and got another drink.  This sequence was repeated many times.  The goodbye party got raucous to the point where the tequila came out and was passed around (the Mojito’s being long gone) and some old gray haired guy got his ‘CF Martin D28’ guitar out and started playing old Dylan, Neal Young, 1960’s rock ‘n roll, a whole lot of ‘stuff’ – some of which left the youngest folks in the party looking puzzled and perplexed.  The songfest was capped off with a song that the old guy wrote on the spot with a chorus that all present joined in on.  It goes, “I am Jesus.   I’m not Elvis.  Elvis left us some time ago.”    God help us all.  

Dinner was not easy in coming, the whole shebang almost didn’t happen.  The night before, in the midst of prepping some of the dishes “the lightening crashed and the thunder roared” (I love that song, thanks Garth!), and the lights and power were gone.  Where we live that doesn’t just mean no TV.  It means no water because we have a well and no toilets or showers – because we have a well.   Damn sonnofabitchin’ hates my guts.  I sat in the dark drinking ever warmer martinis, cursing the fates and figuring that if the power came back on I could get up early the next morning and finish cooking for the party – I went to bed without the benefit of lights, shower or toilet.    

The following morning – I dare to look at the clock by the side of the bed and – IT’S RUNNING!  GLORY BE WE HAVE ELECTRICITY!  Showers and toilets and refrigerators and finishing cooking the food!  Except that something isn’t as it ought to be.  Lights are a little dim, refrig doesn’t sound quite right and when I turn on the faucet a thin, lazy stream of water comes out – and stops.  Welcome To The BROWNOUT!  My sorry ass is not saved.  Many, many calls to the power company, actually speaking with live people who told me that the problem should be fixed by 10:00, then 11:00, then 12:30, then 1:30, all the time I’m going nuts pacing the house figuring out what time ‘the last second’ was if this party was going to happen at all – finally telling the power company in a quivering voice near tears that I had 50 PEOPLE ARRIVING IN ONE HOUR FOR MY DAUGHTERS WEDDING AND COULDN’T THEY PLLLEEEAAASSSEEE GET THE POWER BACK! Where was Bonnie during all of my ranting, screaming and phone calls?   

Cringing in the room corner trying to look like a piece of furniture as any sane human being should do when I’m in the midst of a rant against the power company, God and all the forces of the universe.  Call people to cancel or roll the dice that the power will come back on in time!?  20 minutes to the point of no return and …….. THE POWER’S BACK!  A mad scramble of cooking, showers and bathrooms and – ice cold martinis.

Mojito!

  

 Trutas And Willowy Young Maiden With Doe Eyes

Another of the absolute food joys on Cape Cod is the Portuguese Bakery in Provincetown.  I usually manage to make it to the bakery oh, every other day or so.  We’re walking and reading, so I’m sure that we were burning off any weight that might be gained.  What does the Portuguese Bakery have? 

A beautiful, petite, willowy young maid with doe eyes, a wonderful smile and silken dark hair who speaks only Portuguese.  OK, where the HELL did that come from!? 

I get in just as the bakery opens at 7:00.  I like getting up early to be there.  In September it’s quieter than the main season, a slower pace, few folks on the roads, the pier parking lot almost empty and sometimes I’m the only one in the bakery.  The oil for the fried dough, malasadas, just beginning to warm.  I want it to roll in the pastries and savories, I want the bakers to come home with us and feed us breakfast every day; I want this bakery to exist forever!  Our standard fare (how dare I call it standard!) is a variety of pastries and savories.  To begin with they have a Portuguese Sweet Bread, big round loaves, lots of eggs and sugar, fluffy yet not insubstantial bread with a wonderful thin and dark brown crust.  It’s perfect for eating and eating and eating.  Lots of butter!  Sometimes it ends up as French Toast.  

Then we move on down the line to the Trutas.  OH MY GOD!  These delicacies may be our favorites.  The description, even with my purple prose, does not do it justice.  It is a triangle of fried dough, small, dusted with sugar and cinnamon.  Inside is an incomparable filling of whipped sweet potatoes spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg and God knows what other subtleties.  It tastes nothing like pumpkin pie.  Lighter than air, even after eating 5 or 6, mix of textures: the crispy shell and the creamy filling.  Sweet, but not too sweet, the hint of savory from the sweet potato.  I’ve purchased Trutas in other Portuguese bakeries, but none of them have had the sweet potato filling.  Usually, shrimp.  Never near as crispy.  To have that particular Trutas anywhere else but on the Cape would never be the same.  It all gets back to that ‘context’ thing.

Next, the Bolas.  To say that this is a cream filled doughnut is to insult the entire Portuguese race.  Again, dusted on its crispy crust with sugar and cinnamon, but inside melt on your tongue creamed filling.  A filling similar to the crème patissiere, but different.  For all I know it may well be crème patissiere.  But, again, in the context of the crispy shell, light melt-in-your-mouth dough, the filling and the Cape in quiet time, it is something extraordinary.

The Rabanadas cannot be left out.  Its essence is a slice of Portuguese Sweet Bread, dipped in a sweetened and spice seasoned egg mix.  Then it is cooked like French toast and dusted with the ubiquitous and welcomed sugar and cinnamon.  Standard fare French Toasts – hardly.  Before the bread is pan fried, it is soaked in a seasoned liquid – wine, brandy, all of the above?  This is served at room temperature and the wonder is that when you break through the crust with your fork the ‘bread’ center has disappeared to be replaced by a barely hold together custard that has an indescribable flavor.  The secret?  I don’t know.  Some secrets are best kept so.   

Lest we forget, how could I, the Bakery also features ‘sandwiches’ – croissants that are stuffed with egg, cheese and linguica.   The sandwiches are not insubstantial.  They make a very hearty lunch.  But the linguica.  Ah, my much loved linguica.  I written of this delight earlier so rather than go on about it I’ll just wipe that bit of drool from the corner of my mouth.   All of this, and so much more, from my favorite bakery in my entire known world – The Portuguese Bakery in Provincetown.

Provincetown Portuguese Bakery

  

Dinner Diary                                                             July 9, 2010

 

Dessert

Wow! This internet is something else.  I got a call from a very nice woman in Florida.  It turns out that the American Cancer Society holds an event called the ‘Cattle Baron’s Ball’.  A fundraiser held in many areas of the country.  This was news to me.  She had found my young cowboy picture by searching the internet and asked me if they could use it for the poster for the ball.  Of course I said yes.  To all of you that organize and support this event my best wishes for your success.

A Couple From France, More Summer Dinner Diaries and The Cape

Dinner Diary                                                                         June 5, 1999

 

Bonnie and Sophie worked together.  Sophie and her husband Eric are French, which is to say from France.  Honest to goodness foreigners – there haven’t been too many in my life, though I was once introduced to a person from West Virginia.  They were here so that Eric could finish his education at Princeton.  He was a whiz at nano-physics-astronomy-biology whatever.  Nice people. I actually consumed enough alcohol during the evening so that Eric and I were able to have a conversation about various nano molecular theories – really.  Sophie is flat out, maybe I’ll leave my wife if I didn’t love her so much, gorgeous, brainy and wonderful. 

As Eric and Sophie were not of our culture, I figured I’d whip up a nice American summertime meal.  Give ‘em a little taste of what we’re about.  To give them the full taste we’d have had to travel round the country.  So I figured soft-shells for an appetizer (atop a bed of seaweed salad is nice), ribs, coleslaw and potato salad.  Silver Palette soup to start and, of course, strawberry shortcake for desert ends it (NYT Mag = New York Times Sunday Magazine).  That’s a nice menu.  The ribs – ya gotta remember the dry rub and the wet mop.  Ummmmm.  Let’s take that ride Mon Cherie!

 Reading this diary entry a friend stated that she was unfamiliar with the term, ‘dry rub and wet mop’.  She doesn’t barbecue.  When I barbecue I rub the beef, pork, chicken or what have you with a blend of spice or herbs (depends on how you want it to taste) cook it a good while at low heat with some smoke.  When it’s cooked but not quite finished I’ll put it on the grill and brush barbecue sauce on it.  Cooking it until it’s got a nice little char, not burned, and the meats done.  Hence the dry rub and the wet mop.  That’s my barbecue; God knows there are a lot of other ones out there.  

The Cape, No More Need Be Said 

I have vacationed on the Cape since my parents first took my brothers and me car camping there in the early 1960’s.  In the late 1950’s through the 1960’s my parents didn’t have enough money to take our family vacations in motels (still respectable at that time) or hotels.  Our family, like so many others, packed up the tent and the Coleman stove and plunked ourselves down in campgrounds all over New England.  Dad had won a sales contest and for his prize chose a huge canvas tent.  As with everything that involved his family, he was thrilled to be able to do something for his family, to take us ‘on the road’.  Yet again, the contradictions that were Dad.  As much as he wanted to take us camping, he was nervous about it.  He was always unsure, though he tried to hide this, of his ability to pull it off.  Our family would never have gotten to the Cape in the first place, if one of his business partners wasn’t so familiar with the area and convinced Dad to take us there.  So Dad did take us to the Cape and continued taking us to the Cape and I will always love him for introducing me, and our family, to a very special place.         

When my brothers and I talk about that first trip to the Cape and look at the photos we think 1963 or 1964.  I would have been 13 or 14 years old.  I think back to poor Mom, cooking on a Coleman gas stove for four uncaring, except that there better be food when I’m hungry, males.  Poor Mom.  The camp cooking couldn’t have been the highpoint of her vacation.  Though she came to love more complex cooking at a later time when all of her sons were cooking a lot, I’m guessing that she wasn’t looking forward to even simple cooking when we car camped.  This was no vacation for her.  That hot flame on the gas stove and lightweight aluminum pans – tough to finesse a meal.  There were the car camping 1960’s classic cuisine: canned chili, canned beef stew, bacon and eggs (no fun with the eggs – always scrambled), hamburgers, tuna salad and canned meatballs and spaghetti.  What a trooper ; I don’t remember her complaining – not much anyway.  Every now and then she would suddenly break into tears, but Dad would just attribute those tears to it ‘being her time’.  I was a kid, ‘her time’? What’s this ‘her time’ business?  Come to think of it keeping the tent clean and dry, keeping three sons clean, sleeping on a folding cot because being enclosed in a sleeping bag freaked her out and using the honest to God outhouses that some campgrounds had probably weren’t highpoints in her vacation either. 

Mom and the Brood Camping – circa 1961

 

I have gone back to the Cape just almost every year since that first trip; I missed two or three years due to school, work and Swintbn.  Bonnie joined me in going to the Cape and she loves it as much as I do.  Actually, I’m thinking that I should tell you that it sucks as a vacation spot just so that you won’t go up there.  Actually, it may suck for you.  Where Bonnie and I go there is nothing except the ocean, the bay and a small width of sand and scrub pine between the two.  And above this the dominating and all encompassing sky and it’s light. 

The light is very special here; in a constant flux of density and color, it is a tangible substance, you taste it, you breathe it.  It is overwhelming and its colors are an infinite spectrum at once foreign and familiar; coloring all objects and the air itself.  You feel it surrounding you with the null weight of a spirit, the full import of the entire universe and every variant between those poles.  It is present in the fog and the mist.  It is present long after the sun sets and long before the sun rises.  It is magic. 

In the town that we stay in there are no boardwalks, no vendors, no chi-chi stores, no malls, and no shopping centers.   Friends with a baby and a very young child came up once to visit us (huge mistake on my part); we told them to bring what they needed – nowhere to shop. They brought nothing, couldn’t believe that there was nowhere to shop and they had to drive an hour and a half, each way, to shop. 

There is one small store in the center of town that’s called, of course, the town store.  You can make a circuit of the interior of the store in about three minutes, if you’re not walking very fast.  It sells the most basic necessities: newspapers, linguiҫa from New Bedford and liquor.  All with few options in regards to brand selection. Let’s go back to the Linguiҫa for a moment.  Ah the linguiҫa…..  A Portuguese pork sausage; nicely seasoned, spicy, but not too hot, good onion, garlic and paprika flavors.  A wonderful paprika red and white fat chunk color.  I have grilled this, used it in omelets, frittatas, a fantastic soup with salt cod, potatoes and tomatoes and puréed it and mixed it with mascarpone for a dip.

The Town Store

Stay in town more than a week in off season and you begin to say, “Good morning: insert first name”, to the folks already inside when you walk in to get a cup of coffee and the local paper in the morning.  When I’m in the town store, I think back to the town store in the town that I grew up in.  We would bicycle (baseball cards held with clothes pins in the spokes) to this store to buy root-beer flavored popsicles for a nickel and bubblegum with the comics inside for another nickel – a sweet deal.

So what do Bonnie and I do up there?  We do ‘stuff’: read tons of books, walk on the beaches, cook scallops with the roe attached, cook lobster, cook steamers, cook striped bass, eat at restaurants that serve everything from fried clams to goat cheese cheesecake with a fig/port sauce (different restaurants, silly), can beach plums and rose hips and look at the water and the sky and the light.  The cottage that we’ve rented for the past seven years or so has no television – we love it.  

Dinner Diary                                                                         July 20, 2002

 

I still haven’t found a Sangria recipe that I’m satisfied with and if I were you I’d skip the blue cheese wrapped with prusciutto.  It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t sing.  We’ve been there and done that with the grilled curried shrimp and grapes.   

The lamb on the other hand makes a nice little package.  Blanch leeks, cut lengthwise, until they’re just pliable.  Stop them from cooking further in an ice water bath and pat dry.

A word here about water on/in food.  Unless you want to steam food, the food should be dry.  If it’s wet, you’re steaming it.  Why do you think that there are dry aged steaks?  You want the blood off of the steak before it goes in the pan or on the grill, it’s mostly water.  Why do you think that salad dressing won’t cling to the greens unless the green are dry?  If you’re trying to get a nice char on those pan fried scallops you’re never going to do it unless you’ve wrapped them in paper towels and dried them first.  So…. Dry the leeks. 

Now that your leeks are nicely blanched and dried slice some slivers off a garlic clove.  Get some rosemary stalks and abuse them almost any way that you can think of to get them pliable enough to easily wrap around the lamb chop.  Salt and pepper the chops, a little olive oil, wrap the edge of the chops with the garlic, rosemary (or a combo of herbs) and the blanched strip of leek on the outside holding it all together.  Secure it with a wet (so it won’t burn) bamboo skewer (tough, but you’ll get it) and let them sit in the fridge for a few hours to absorb the flavors.  Grill them on each side until they’re done.  Nice presentation, good flavor.  Lamb with a rice mixture on the side, always nice.  And at the end of the meal we pay homage to Maida Heatter’s Lemon Mousse. 

This was a pretty relaxed meal for meal; one very good friend, one lovely wife and one at home chefy.  I like to think that we sat out on the deck that night and watched the fireflies dance.

 

 

Paella on the Cape with Linguiҫa

 

Well, What Do You Pack For Vacation?

Bonnie packs for our Cape vacations the night before we’re leaving.  I on the other hand, being who I am, start planning and packing weeks before.  Of course she can pack the night before; all that she has to take care of is her stuff.  She doesn’t have to think about the COOKING.  Nor is she concerned about the LIQUOR.  Bonnie says, and rightly so, that all that we need is at the house that we rent or is available for purchase.  Still, that doesn’t deter me in the slightest from stuffing our station wagon to the bursting point.

Bonnie’s not going to cook when she’s up there and even when we’re at home she’s not giving any thought to the KNIVES.  Knowing me as only a brother can, one of my brothers and his wife gifted Bonnie with her very own set of knives for her birthday.  The inspiration for this present probably came from an incident where upon my finding a knife of MINE, that she had used, on the kitchen counter one day I left a note beside it that read, “This is MY knife”.  After we ‘talked’ I never left a note like that again. I have adopted the attitude that if a knife is ruined, we will simply purchase a new knife.  For vacation my knives and sharpening steel go with me.

While on vacation we take joy in the fact that we have the time to sit around and have several cups of coffee while reading newspapers and books.  The morning coffee requires that we bring with us not only whole coffee beans, but the grinder and our coffee maker.  I mean really, I know how this combo works to make a great cup of coffee.  How on earth could I rely on someone else’s coffee maker and, God in heaven they don’t have a bean grinder and I couldn’t possibly pre-grind those beautiful beans!  Early on in our travels to the Cape I suggested that we bring our well water with us.  I was talked out of this.  Several years ago Bonnie sat me down and gently opined that perhaps we could experiment just this once.  We could leave the coffee maker and grinder at home, pre-grind the beans, use the coffee maker that’s in the house and see how this works out.  After some experimentation with the settings on the rental coffee maker it did work out – the resultant coffee was in fact acceptable.   Chalk one up for Bonnie.  Maybe I should listen to her more often – na.

OK, the coffee bean grinder and coffee maker are now left at home, but I’ve got my knives. Not only do I have my knives, I have my lobster pot (a canning kettle that Mom used to preserve tomatoes in), my 14 inch skillet, a 10 inch skillet and a small sauté pan.

The lobster pot is special to me, as it was used by Mom and is probably around 50 years old.  It’s so thin in spots, and almost rusted, that I swear I could put my finger through it, but it still holds together.    It’s thin steel with a blue ‘granite’ finish. I invert the wire mesh canning rack that comes with this and it allows me to steam the lobsters instead of boiling them.  Even a three pound lobster will fit without squishing.  It still has the label on it, shredded but there, ”Federal Cold Pack Canner and Utility Pot, Federal Enameling and Stamping Co., Pittsburgh, PA., U.S.A.”   You’ve seen this pot, you may have one.  Everybody in the 1950’s had one of these – or a whole set of them.  Ah, sweet childhood.

Also packed are my pepper grinder, salts, oils, various spices and herbs – OH, and the canning tongs, canning funnel, scale, pectin, cheese cloth and two dozen eight ounce canning jars for starters.

  Can you imagine the station wagon filling up?

Can you imagine that Bonnie has given up on trying to change this after so many years? 

       I’m still not done.

    Butter, Arborio rice, my olive wood handled cork screw (a gift from Bonnie), two good steaks to interrupt the seafood menu, saffron and a mallet to break shells to make stock.

We bring some changes of clothes, a guitar, our own pillows and lots of books.  There, now the station wagon is stuffed.  Some folks might find the list excessive, but I figure I’m on vacation and ain’t nothing stopping me from the joy of cooking.

The Cape

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.