The Dinner Diaries 1984
Dinner Diary – May 22, 1984
Wow! I’m the Harem Chef! Sometimes you just get lucky. I know 1984 is missing from the date on the page, but the entries that proceed and follow this are 1984 so I’ll just make a leap of faith here. This diary entry is special; it introduces Bonnie, my beloved wife and best friend.
Who the hell are all these women? They are the leader of and members of a ‘relationship therapy group’ that Bonnie and I participated in. We didn’t know each other when we started attending the sessions. We met in this group, fell in love with each other and, down the road, got married. The details of that journey are another book.
The premise of the group was that we, the participants, were all to greater or lesser degrees LOSERS when it came to being able to sustain a relationship for any meaningful period of time and that through this group therapy we would learn how to do so – it was the 80’s. The therapist running the group did not intend it to be a match-making service. However, during the course of the groups’ lifespan Linda stayed with her husband Art, Bonnie and I fell in love, Jane and Michael got together, Debbie and Barrie got together and latecomer Evan started dating the receptionist. Robin; I don’t know. So, the group obviously met its stated goal. Bonnie insists that she was brought into the group as a ringer, because she likes to talk, sometimes a lot. Bonnie also says that she didn’t know that I was actually dating her when we started dating. She thought that we were ‘just friends’. Well, Bonnie and I were not dating on May 22. Though the seeds of that thought had been planted. Dinner for the group was simply the efforts of a sensitive new age guy to cook dinner for his friends – really.
The menu might be considered a little much by some. Chefy was not pleased with ‘The Silver Palette’s’ Seafood Pâté, but what specifically displeased him? The carrot salad in a berry vinaigrette (B.A. = Bon Appétit, April 1983) and the Phyllo wrapped veal roll (again; B.A. = Bon Appétit Magazine, April 1983) sound good and worthy of another go. ‘Fettuccini with Saffroned mushrooms’? How about Saffroned fettuccini with mushrooms if we want to correctly title the dish. I’ve commented on this pairing before. Despite the fact that I’ve made that combo before, saffron/mushrooms, I’m kinda wary of those flavors together – So, try it anyway! Chefy was also less than thrilled with the sugar cookies and the lemon crème (again, Bon Appétit). Chefy says that the crème didn’t set up and the cookies were too thick. Picky, picky chefy. Chefy, among his many ‘issues’, has a love hate relationship with the magazine ‘Bon Appétit’ more of that farther along in the diaries.
Pasta in a cream sauce, asparagus in a cream sauce and strawberries with lemon crème. That all sounds a little too creamy, sloppy and way too heavy. I was just cooking dinner for my friends, not fattening them for the slaughter.
My advice to myself regarding this menu;
– The seafood pate may be interesting, but it may not belong here, maybe an odd flavor pairing with the rest of the meal – make an antipasto.
– Keep the carrot salad/berry vinaigrette and the veal roll.
– Fettuccini is good, saffron is good, it just needs a little cream, or olive oil, to coat it, not so much that it over whelms it.
– Asparagus roasted, grilled or pan sautéed with just a little olive oil and lemon juice.
– The strawberries, bowled sugar cookies and lemon crème, or sabayon, can stay.
– There, much nicer.
Pouffy Sleeves And The Sorceress Of Soup
In our early dating days, Bonnie and I used to go to a wonderful restaurant in Princeton. It was cheap and the food was not at all flashy, but was perfectly prepared. The restaurant was located one flight down from street level and despite it being inexpensive, boasted cloth napkins and tablecloths, candles, shining silverware gleaming glassware. A subdued light subtly tinged with rose infused the air – dark enough for lovers or failing Princeton professors with stained shirts, cliché corduroy sport coats and days unwashed hair.
One of my most cherished memories of our meals together here, a place that has since gone chi-chi (Oh the humanities!) involved a soup course. We sat on opposite sides of the table, our eyes locked on each other clearly conveying the passion and depths of our affection – really. The waiter must have come and gone at various times and we must have ordered food because it appeared on the table before us. But that evening our eyes saw only each other in a Jacquelyn Suzanne glow of love and passions to be later unleashed. Until, in an instant, my eyes strayed, the intense gaze broken. What broke my gaze? A waitress about to drop a tray of food? A beautiful waif of a Provincetown Portuguese Bakery maiden? Jacquelyn Suzanne herself? No. Though all of the aforementioned are yet to come, and would certainly break my gaze, what did it was the blouse that Bonnie was wearing. My eyes were riveted by the wonder of the blouse. Any man understands how certain blouses can catch and hold your eye – inspiring dreams of prowess never to be attained in the reality of the 5:30 AM alarm – but in this case it was something else entirely. Bonnie was wearing a blouse the sleeves of which would well be worthy of the adjective, ‘POUFFY’. We’ve all seen the episode, Bonnie actually wore the blouse.
There was about three or four yards of fabric in each sleeve and what was happening with one of these theater curtain size sleeves held my gaze as if I was staring into the eyes of a cobra, as if I were watching the two cars the instant before they hit each other head on. I was absolutely enthralled, for a fold of this sleeve happened to be resting in what had been a full bowl of the soup that Bonnie had ordered. A fine bowl of soup, worthy of this restaurant, with a light, flavorful broth. But now, the bowl of soup was empty!
Not empty because Bonnie had eaten this soup, but empty because, by magic, the fold of this ‘SUPER SLEEVE’ had snuck into the soup bowl and, without alerting Bonnie, had managed to suck up all of the soup. Yes, she’s a natural blonde, but that doesn’t explain everything. The following dialogue ensued.
Me, “Bonnie, your sleeve is full of soup.”
Me, “Really, look at your sleeve. It’s sucked up all your soup.”
Her, “Oh My God!”
Me, “Waiter, could we have some extra napkins please?”
Waiter, “Certainly sir. Would that be to clean up the soup that’s been sucked up your companion’s pouffy sleeve?”
Me, “Yes, it would, thank you.”
Her, “Oh My God!”
Waiter, “Would you care for another bowl of soup?”
Me, “No, no more soup, thank you.”
Her, “Oh My God!”
Me, “Waiter, have you ever seen anything like this?”
Waiter, “No sir, I have not, and I’ve been in the service of this restaurant for quite some time”
Her, “Oh My God!”
Bound by the spell of this sorceress with a mane of hair the color of sun-danced gold, the waiter and I gazed as though bewitched as Bonnie slowly raised her arm, lifting the sleeve from the now empty soup bowl. Shades of Gandalf, the soup REMAINED within the fabric of the sleeve! Shadows in the corners of the room darkened, all conversation faded and then stopped and, in The Faraway Lands, dimly at first, but increasing in volume and tempo, the chanting of the coven was heard. Bonnie, moving in slow motion, reached out to the sleeve with a fingertip. Was her fingertip glowing with an ethereal light or was I imagining it? With her blonde maiden sorceress touch, the fingertip finally rested on the sleeve. And then – the spell was broken – the soup once held captive was released in a single, thin, stream to the floor beneath our feet.
CAPTURED AND RELEASED BY THE SPELL OF LOVE!
Dinner Diary – July 7, 1984
OK, full size ribs are a bit much for an appetizer. Especially when I’m serving Beef Kabobs as an entrée. Dave’s Potatoes on the other hand are a masterpiece and I SWEAR TO GOD that I was the first to come up with this recipe. Hey! How come I didn’t have a date for this dinner?
– Russet potatoes sliced lengthwise into wedges.
– Boil the potatoes until they’re a little bit done. Now you know par-boil. I include this step because I think that the seasonings are better absorbed by hot potatoes than cold potatoes.
– Toss them while warm with salt and pepper, butter, Worchestshire Sauce, Colemans mustard.
– Bake on a cookie sheet in a 350° oven, and as Chef Barry says, “Cook it until it’s done”; until they’re crispy and dark golden brown.
This menu introduces another staple in my repertoire – Broiled (or grilled even better) Shrimp with Green Grapes and Curry Sauce. As Heloise says, “quick, easy and tasty” – NO, it’s not a Heloise recipe. It’s so simple:
– Marinate shelled shrimp and the grapes in a curry/oil/citrus zest concoction for a while, maybe a half hour plus. Don’t use any citrus juice, vinegar or wine – you don’t want to make a ceviche.
– Make up your own concoction, I won’t give you mine.
– Skewer the marinated shrimp and green, or red, grapes.
– Make it look damn nice when you do this skewer. Skewer the shrimps so that the ends of the shrimp wrap around a grape with grapes on either side of the shrimp. Whatever, made it look good; make it look like something that you’d want to put in your mouth.
– Best to grill them, but broil, or pan sautéing will work too.
– Yes, cook it until the shrimp are done and the grapes have grilled a little – about 1+ minute per side over a hot pan or griddle or fire. Shrimp cook up so quickly, please don’t overcook them. A little char on the grapes is great; they get intensely sweet and soft.
– Use the green peppers or not, they give a nice little crunch to it.
– Serve hot or at room temperature.
– That wasn’t hard, was it?
Corn on the cob. There are as many ways to do it well as there are to make a mess of it. I don’t like to get to fancy with a lot of seasonings on it. Fresh corn is just so damn good I don’t know why you’d want to mess it up. Butter and salt is all that it needs. Corn relish being the exception to that rule; my corn relish is righteously seasoned and tastes so damn good that you want to roll in it. I like corn on the cob boiled, but doing it on the grill is good and convenient if you’re out there with other dishes. The Golden Rule of Corn On the Cob – don’t overcook it. Overcook it and I’ll have you arrested. I once had someone ask me, “How long should I boil the corn for? Fifteen minutes or twenty minutes?” No, I didn’t harm them, though I would have been within my rights to do so. If you love corn on the cob and served on my jury, you would have acquitted me.
Beef kabobs are a classic. Do it right and make sure that the onions, peppers, beef and whatever else you might have on there finish cooking at the same time. Jesus I hate eating raw onion and dried out beef. At times I have resorted to pre-cooking the skewer ingredients to a degree that they’ll all finish at the same time. Other times I’ll just let it cook a while over a lowish heat, brushing often with a good marinade, making sure that everything’s cooked and nothing’s dried out.
The blueberry – lemon ice cream sounds great: a vanilla ice cream base with blueberries, lemon juice and lemon zest. I’m going to have to do that one again some summer.
This is a pretty diverse group of folks. John and Nina the artists, the other John and I architects, Randy a construction manager, John’s wife, Mary, and Randy’s wife, Sue, were at home moms, Jane a chemist and a member of the therapy group, Jane’s boyfriend, Michael an academic, Linda, an interior designer, and her husband, Jordan, with an airline. Who says that we all can’t live together in peace? It’s always interesting with a group like that, there’s always some common thread of interest or knowledge that joins people together, folks ‘riff’ off of other folks tales and everybody’s happy – most times, not always. I’ll eventually tell you about the unhappy dinner.
Dessert: Hot Dog Johnny’s, Butzville, New Jersey
A few weekends ago Bonnie and I took advantage of some beautiful weather to make the drive up to Hot Dog Johnny’s in Butzville, New Jersey. Yes, there really is a town named Butzville. It’s located more or less at the intersection of State Routes 31 and 46.
Hot Dog Johnny’s
It was an autumn soft, clear blue sky day making for a nice drive up Route 29 through the river towns of Stockton, Frenchtown and Milford and up along Route 519 through the farm country and New Jersey hills.
Hot Dog Johnny’s has been around, in various iterations since 1944. The area is pretty rural now; I can’t imagine how rural it was in ’44. Johnny’s is truly a New Jersey institution, a legend. A round hut type building with the serving windows and some tables on the inside, more tables outside with all of this nestled between the Pequest River and Route 46. The hot dogs are fried and served with a choice of mustard or diced raw onions; a pickle nestled along the dog in the bun. Good French fries. A variety of sodas are available, including birch beer and you can get a glass of butter milk (I love butter milk, but I don’t have it with my hot dog). No chili-dogs, no burgers, no veggie burgers, no salads – this is Hot Dog Johnny’s! So Bonnie and I got our dogs, fries and birch beer. We also got a large order of disappointment. The dogs had fried long enough to be wizened and wrinkled without having a crispy crunchy casing (the best fried dog in the Garden State – Rutt’s Hut, Clifton, New Jersey). The onions tasted a little long in the tooth and would have been much better if they were a sweet onion. As it was we ended up scraping most of the onion out of the bun. By the way, we had a dog and a half each so as far from perfection as those dogs were they weren’t THAT bad.
Was this a disaster? A wasted trip? Hardly. A beautiful day, a nice ride and my lover and best friend by my side. We did muse on the possibility of how much better this would have been with a better dog and a sweeter onion, but hey, ya deal with what ya got. Will we go back to Hot Dog Johnny’s? Absolutely, it’s Hot Dog Johnny’s and it’s in Butzville!
For Your Edification:
The ‘Blogroll’ in the right hand column of the blog contains connections to the websites of various venues that I write about or reference in the blog. Such as, ‘Hot Dog Johnny’s’. It also holds connections to the websites of other blogs or blog directories where ‘The Dinner Diaries of an Intrepid Amateur Chef’ appears. I’ve included in the Blogroll ‘Anton’s at the Swan’. It is a superb restaurant and though I don’t write about Anton’s until farther along in this memoir I’ve chosen to include it ‘before its time’ because their chef, Chris Connors who’s cooking I very much admire, has followed my blog from its first posting, and for that I’m thankful. Also on the Blogroll is ‘NJ Spice”. This site is a showcase of the local gourmand scene and is authored by my friend Faith. Some interesting observations and well worth taking a look at. Nope, I don’t get paid a dime for any of these connections. They’re listed because I think that you’ll want to know a bit more about some of the people and places that I write about. Enjoy, Dave
Next Week: Dinner Diaries from 1984 and 1985 and St. Marteen In The Rain and another hot dog stand