Dinner Diary May 4, 1985
This is still a good menu – if you squint a bit while looking at it. OK, shrimp & scallops AND prusciutto with melon AND guava spread & cheddar cheese AND fettuccini with saffron cream sauce continue to be a “little” much. I mean, even my note says, “too much at the same time”. There is an explanation for the excess of food – I’m of Polish ancestry. This ancestry, as with many other ethnic groups, requires that you make twice or three times the amount of food that could possibly be consumed at the event, thus ensuring that there will be enough for the invited guests and any Mongol Hordes or smaller third world countries that might show up uninvited. Who knew that the guava spread is supposed to go with a nice Spanish or South American cheese? I gotta’ try the orange stuffed with orange mousse again (BA = Bon Appétit, May 1985 and NYT Mag = New York Times Sunday Magazine, March 10, 1985). As I, somewhat hazily, recall this was a great “presentation and taste” dish. Cold strawberry soup sounds too 80’s. It would be nice to find some way to give it a little savory flavor. Maybe accomplish that with rosemary, lime zest or goat cheese or feta even something as simple as sour cream or mascarpone; something to counter the sweetness of the berries. The salmon steaks with tarragon mayo are good and easy (BA= Bon Appétit, March 1982). Mayo makes a nice marinade and pan sautés or grills with just a bit of a crust.
Alison and Bill! Alison has been Bonnie’s friend basically from Genesis. Bill and I came along later and we all love each other dearly. Alison has never hesitated to honestly comment about my cooking. Actually, she doesn’t hesitate to comment honestly about much in life and that’s a good thing. I know that I’ve previously written about how people enter and leave your life. However, it’s always nice to have some constants. It’s not as though we see each other every weekend. Sometimes a month or more goes by, but each knows that the other is there and can be counted on.
Beth and Neil were part of the circle at the time and there’s a great story about Beth and me that Bonnie won’t let me tell. And, no, Beth and I did not have sex. You’ll have to pay me $10.00 to get the story. Wait, Bonnie’s saying no to that also.
St. Marteen In The Rain
Before we were married we took a vacation to St. Marteen. The best that I can say about the island is that it was nice; I much prefer Jamaica and St. John’s. Before we left I had talked with several people that had been down there and I had a list of some, supposedly, good restaurants. When I’m on vacation anywhere I sure don’t want to eat the same food that I can get back home and this is what I thought that the recommendations were getting us – some down-home, local food. So Bonnie and I decided to try one of the recommended restaurants.
That evening we got a little dressed up, that is to say that we weren’t wearing bathing suits and T- shirts, exited the hotel and set out on foot to find the restaurant. We actually found the first restaurant on the list without too much trouble, went in and were greeted with – blaring disco music (not reggae) and a full menu that offered such indigenous Caribbean specialties as hamburgers and pizzas (if it had been Conte’s I might have stayed). OK, scratch that idiot who recommended this from the ‘friend’ list. I talked to the idiot who recommended this place, now ex-friend, when we returned saying, “What the hell were you thinking of to recommend that shithole?” She replied, “It has air conditioning”.
The town wasn’t that big by my standards. No more than one mile or so from one end of the main street to the other. I said to Bonnie, “Let’s just walk along here and see what we can find. There’s bound to be something.” Yeah, there’s bound to be something. She agreed. She can usually sense danger earlier than I can, but when she tells me, I seldom listen. We hadn’t walked too far, had seen one or two restaurants that we (actually I) dismissed and …… the first raindrop fell. My reasoning to Bonnie: this is the Caribbean in the spring, the rain can’t last long, it’ll just be a sprinkle. We walked a little farther, dismissed a few other nondescript restaurants and it rained a little harder. Did I tell you that we were a ways from our hotel by now? I was pretty pissed off at not having found a suitable indigenous restaurant and affected a double-time march step thinking that if we picked up the pace it would change things. We still had not found a good restaurant, it was raining to a degree that some might have termed it a heavy rain and Bonnie was beginning to have ‘that look’ in her eyes. No, not the good ‘that look’, the other ‘that look’. Ignoring the facts that every step we took squirted water from our shoes and that our eyeballs should have been equipped with windshield-wipers (I was better at ignoring the light mist than Bonnie was). I pleaded with her to just go a little farther, I was sure that we’d find a restaurant. Game lass that she, is we did go a little further and stepped into a half-way decent place. We might have stayed there, if Bonnie hadn’t gotten a look at herself in a mirror located in the lobby. In all honesty even I have to agree that she looked as if she had just walked, fully clothed, from the swimming pool, hair a little ‘wettish’. I made a very small joke about Bonnie’s entering a wet T-shirt contest. I thought that the joke was much funnier than Bonnie did. Bonnie announced, “WE’RE GOING BACK TO THE HOTEL”. The way that she said it I knew that I shouldn’t make any sudden moves, make no more jokes about wet T-shirt contests, end the restaurant quest immediately and agree with everything that she said. If I didn’t follow those rules I would, at best, be risking divorce (Hey wait! We weren’t married yet!) or, at worst, I would be made a gelding.
We walked quickly back to the hotel (yes it continued to rain) and entered our room. Bonnie stood in the middle of the room and a very substantial puddle of water formed around her and she did look, how shall I put this: DROWNED. She ran her hand through her hair and a torrent of water joined the small pond that was forming on the floor. Sandbags would soon be needed to keep the rest of the suite dry. She looked across the room at me, the implied threat being that I might still end the night as a gelding. I suffered the verbal wrath that I deserved, not even mentioning the fact that I too was ‘damp’. I have had enough experience in dealing with women to know when to keep my mouth shut, but I can only manage to keep my mouth shut about 10% of the time. Her tirade had some merit: why couldn’t I just ‘settle’ for a restaurant instead of dragging her through the rain drenched streets until she looked like a drowned rat? I had answers for this but, being a man who knows women and restaurants, kept my mouth shut. I mea culpa’d, and I meant what I mea culpa’d, and pleaded with her to give this expedition one more try (I was really hungry). We changed out of our damp clothes, put on fresh clothes and ventured out again. The rain had let up a bit; we found a good restaurant not too far away and had wonderful ‘scallops’ of turtle meat in a green peppercorn sauce. I still wonder about the restaurants at the end of Main Street that we didn’t get to see, but I happily traded that opportunity so that I could remain a stallion.
There came lunch the next day that, dare I say it, ‘washed’, whatever foul memories of the slightly drizzly evening from our mind. We had rented a car. A car about the size of a wheelbarrow, but it did have an engine and we did have to pay to rent it – so, we shall call it a car. A car so close to not being a car that it slid backwards on the steep hills where the pavement was still wet from the previous night’s rain. We resorted to backing down the hill and getting a running start on the flats so that we’d be sure to crest the hill. Vacation thrills!
The day was travel advertisement perfect: sunny skies with a few perfectly white clouds, caressing warm breezes, the azure blue seas and sugar white sands. We drove along the coast smiling at life and our love for each other and happy to be in the moment. We felt hungry and, despite our not so easy experience of finding and actually eating at a restaurant the previous rainy evening, we were ready to try it again. We saw a sign at a small building by the water that said, succinctly, “Food” and figured that we had nothing to lose. It wasn’t raining and at worst we could just keep driving back and forth across the entire island looking for another, “Food” sign. So, we pulled over and entered. So far so good, the fact that we found a restaurant that looked OK was a small victory.
GECKO – NOT THAT GECKO
It had a small podium at the entrance where the hostess held court and a beautiful deck with the tables stretching along the water’s edge. Built of rough hewn trees, the roof, swear to God, of simply thatched palm fronds. Beautiful, perfect, simple, real. Basic wood tables and chairs with a patina of time and use. Bonnie loved the small geckos that darted along the tree trunks that held up the roof. And the menu: local foods, fresh and, from the way that the dishes were described, prepared simply. The menu was truth. I know that we ordered several courses (how could I not, being who I am? Being who we are.), but what Bonnie and I remember to this day is the most simple of simple: wonderfully prepared escargot in a garlic and wine sauce, nothing more-nothing less, a crusty chewy bread that would be at home at Balthazar’s and a perfect crisp white wine to balance the garlic. Couple all of that with all of the ambience and nicely demure service and we were in heaven. We sat there, eating this wonderful food, looking at the sea and the sky and looking at each other.
There was nothing in time or space before or beyond each of the seconds that we savored this experience. We will remember it forever.
OK, the escargots were probably not indigenous, but hey, we were on the French side of the island.
The Other Hot Dog Stand – Dilly’s Corner, Centerbridge, PA
Dilly’s isn’t Hot Dog Johnny’s, but then it’s not in Buttzville either. I have to digress. One weekend, when I was about 9 years old, I would have loved to have had my parents take me to Johnny’s. Then, when I was in school on Monday and the teacher asked, “Did anyone go anywhere special this weekend?” I could have sprung my trap by raising my hand and having the teacher asks me ……..
Teacher, “David, please tell all of us where you went this weekend.”
David, “It was a really great place!”
Teacher, “I’m sure that it was a special place and that you enjoyed it very much. So, tell us exactly where you went.”
David, “I went to BUTZVILLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
David (now screaming the name and laughing uncontrollably), “I WENT TO BUTZVILLE!!!! BUTZVILLE!!!!!!”
At this point all of the other 9 year old boys are laughing and shouting out, Butzville!!!! Butzville!!!!
Teacher, “David I want you to stop saying that this instant and to bring your parents to meet with me tomorrow!!!!!!”
I’ve explained to Bonnie that a male’s level of sophistication regarding humor peaks at around 13 years of age and remains there for the rest of his life. She’s come to believe me.
Let me count the ways that Dilly’s is not Johnny’s. To begin with the name Centerbridge doesn’t have the same potential for frolic as Butzville. That doesn’t necessarily make it better or worse, just different. Dilly’s is located at the intersection of Pennsylvania Routes 32 and 263. If you’re in Stockton, NJ you can ford the Delaware River by walking across Centerbridge–Stockton bridge. Dilly’s is, quite literally a stones throw from the river. Dilly’s food is consistently very good: hot dogs, Dilly Dogs (A huge tube of meat on a torpedo roll slathered with sautéed peppers and onions), chili dogs, burgers, french fries, onion rings, soft ice cream, root beer floats – all of the classics. I seem to remember that they serve a veggie burger, but that would be so wrong I must be mistaken. All of this wedged into a little corner of land with a gravel parking lot, the cook house some tables under the heavens and some tables under a canopy. They keep track of the orders by handing you a playing card when you place your order and calling out, let’s say, FIVE OF HEARTS!, when your order is ready.
During the high season it is chock full of customers. As the roads in the area on both sides of the river really lend themselves to absolutely joyous motorcycle rides the parking lot always has more that its share of bikers. There’s no reason to fear the bikers as many bikes these days will set a rider back about $20,000 to $30,000. You don’t usually find Hells Angels on the bikes at Dilly’s – you’re more likely to find stock brokers and attorneys. That raises the question of which you would rather have sitting beside you at the picnic tables. Every once in a while, because of the gravel, a biker will fall over, while still on his bike. This of course brings forth a lot of snickering and derisive pointing from the other bikers. I told you about humor and the American male.
Ya gotta go! Great food, good prices and an ambiance you’ll find in few, if any, other places. When you’re enjoying your root beer float, chili dog and onion rings think kindly of me.
Dessert: Tales of Thanksgiving
I very much appreciate your sharing your Thanksgiving stories with me and the readers of this blog.
Our Thanksgiving went well and we enjoyed our guests. My cooking on the other hand wasn’t entirely successful. I keep telling myself, and now I’ll tell you, you can’t cook and play host. You’ve got to prioritize and if you’re chefy that means that cooking comes first. So, while enjoying conversation and a glass or two of wine with our guests a couple of dishes that I had placed in the toaster oven got really well done – burned would be the exact word. The ‘casserole’ of mushrooms, leeks and goat cheese was too ‘crisp’ to serve. What brought my attention to the fact that a dish had gone overlong was the fragrance of the blackened, burned, brussel sprouts in a dish that contained brussel sprouts, shallots and walnuts. There are few fragrances that can compete with burned cabbage. Dinner was not spoiled by the two missing in action dishes – it just could have been better.
C. had a family of ten at the dinner table and I envy her for that. It always struck me that Holiday dinners should be as crammed with people as possible. Truly, the more the merrier.
Not surprisingly two of the funnier tales, I write funnier because I wasn’t there and it wasn’t my house, involved attempts to fry a turkey for Thanksgiving Dinner.
S. was able to convince her husband G. that they really ought to give this frying thing a try. S. had spent time in Paris, loved good food and they were both up for the adventure. The turkey, fryer and 20 gallons of frying oil (just kidding – a bit) were secured. G. had seen the videos on You Tube of houses burning to the ground in an attempt to fry the Thanksgiving turkey so he prudently decided the set up the frying rig on the front lawn. The reasoning being that it would be easier for the firemen, or ambulance, to access that location. Understand that S. and G. live in a neighborhood where you don’t usually find turkey fryers, or cars up on concrete blocks, on the front lawn.
T–Day dawned cold, with clouds and the weatherman calling for the possibility of rain. G. reasoned that the turkey would be fried before any rain came along. Mans hope springs eternal and there is that tipping point where pride makes its entrance.
The fryer was set up, the turkey was ready and the oil was at a good hot temperature when the first raindrops fell from the sky. For those of you that have never fried food you have yet to experience what happens when water, or drops of water, hit boiling hot oil. When the raindrops hit the oil large dollops of boiling hot oil threw themselves from the cooker onto any exposed bit of flesh: hands, arms, ankles, the face, ears. You’ve seen the siege of the castle where the invaders are repelled when the castle inhabitants pour caldrons of hot oil on them? Raindrops in the turkey fryer create the same pain. S. and G. grimly tell of the mad scramble to find something to cover the oil – finally settling for the summer beach umbrella, a nice blue umbrella with a radiant, smiling sun. The reality of the cold grey rainy day thumbed its nose at the sunny and happy graphics on the umbrella.
So, in your minds eye you may now picture G. on the front lawn, in a cold rain, wearing a raincoat and boots, hovering just outside the beach umbrella because there isn’t room under the umbrella for both G. and the turkey fryer, grimly monitoring the frying of the bird. Picture how, every so often, the wind whipped rain will sneak under the beach umbrella and remind G. of just how hot the oil is. Picture the small holes that the boiling oil melts in his raincoat when that happens. Later that day he will look with curiosity at the small round burns on his hands and arms and that one odd one on his earlobe.
Where are S. and their guests while G. tends the turkey? Being sensible they are inside the house, watching G. through the windows at the front of the house, sipping wine and enjoying appetizers and the warmth of the fireplace. Had S. abandoned G.? Not in the slightest for at one point she donned a raincoat and went to G’s. side – to give him a cell phone so that he could call those safely ensconced in the house to apprise them of the turkey’s progress.
The day ended with one waggish neighbor coming from the warmth of his home to the fryer/beach umbrella and saying, “G., you know you’re really bringing down the property values.”
YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!
My brother Mitch was party to a turkey fryer ‘incident’ this year. He and his wife Chris would be spending Thanksgiving with her newly married daughter, newly minted son-in-law and the new in-laws. Chris and Mitch, being the master planners that they are, made contingencies for the possibility of error or catastrophe. One turkey was purchased for the fryer and a second would be cooked at Mitch and Chris’s home. The newlyweds not having an oven large enough to accommodate the turkey. So, one turkey was ready to eat and the second would be done in the fryer.
All the men gathered around the turkey fryer ready to do battle. And yes, they were smart enough not to place the fryer on the houses wood deck. The fryer got off to a good start. The temperature of the large quantity of expensive peanut oil almost being hot enough to put the bird in when – the flame went out. Let the parts cool down, inspect the parts, reassemble the parts, relight the flame, get the oil almost hot enough and – have the flame go out again. With the late fall darkness descending and the appetizers long gone the scenario of ‘almost hot enough-flames out’ was repeated several more times.
Grimly the men inspected and reassembled the fryer parts one last time. With fingers crossed they lit the fryer one more time. This time the results were different. Not in a good way. The entire base of the burn shot flames about five feet into the now dark fall sky. Cool heads prevailed, short straws were drawn and one brave soul (not certain about the bravery, but he certainly did draw the short straw) shut down the burner a final time.
Dinner was served. The turkey that had been cooked may not have been as warm as one might have liked and there might not have been as much as one might have liked, but by God dinner was on the table.
Where was my brother Mitch? Standing by the propane grill on the deck, in the dark, grilling the turkey that was to have been fried. Did it work? Perfectly. Goody-bags of grilled turkey were distributed to all and only one guests arm hair had been singed away.
I hope that everyone had a great Thanksgiving!
Next Week: The Dinner Diaries of the Christmas Brunch