Thursday, August 31, 2006

What’s Next for Mr. Next

I really love reading The New Yorker, but the only time I can remember actually finishing one before the next issue arrived was when I belonged to the Y and went there to work out 3-5 days a week. The recumbent bicycle I coveted had a great acrylic bookholder which slipped over the control panel, so I could read as I pedalled and, man, did I pedal a lot back then! I try to remember to check the NYer website every week now that I no longer have a subscription and this week discovered this: What’s Next for Mr. Next by Blake Eskin (September 4, 2006), an interview with Bill Jones, the line director at Whole Foods in Chelsea, who was the disembodied booming voice directing shoppers to the next available cash register. I mean, who knew! And now he has found himself replaced by a machine. The horror. The horror.

Read also Ian Parker's original Talk of the Town column about Mr. Jones titled Mr. Next (January 13, 2003).

Almost alone

My baby brother is still here but only until morning. He's been killing himself doing about a million loads of laundry since I can no longer go down my basement steps anymore and sooooo much more than I can tell you. He and our friend Cynthia went shopping this afternoon and bought me a very sporty chrome and black rolling walker with a fancy black wire bicycle basket for carrying things to and from the kitchen. I must snap a photo of it for you to see.

I think I've done more walking and stairs-going than all the rest of this week and I am ready to drop -- it's raining here now and my arthritis is making the joints stiff that the stroke isn't affecting -- but we still have to make the kitchen halfway ready for me to use once he's gone. My friend Mary is coming over this weekend, so I'm going to ask her to help me figure out the rest. If I can nuke hot dogs I can survive, so at least there's that to look forward to! ;-)

Monday, August 28, 2006

Nick Gifts Nina with Orchids

If you asked my friend Robin who she secretly hoped to catch a glance of on one of his infrequent visits back home, she would undoubtedly say "George Clooney". This kind of became our ongoing joke a few years ago when we first started haunting The Blue Wisp, our town's most long-lived jazz club. Marjean, the club's owner, often told the story about how George used to sneak in to listen to music and down some drinks while disguised with a Cincinnati Reds cap. His parents, Nick, a well-known journalist, and Nina, a former Miss Kentucky, an attractive couple who still drop by The Wisp occasionally to hear the Blue Wisp Big Band, were last seen bopping to the big beat in the company of Dante DiPaolo, the widower of Nick's sister and George's aunt Rosemary.

I enjoyed reading Nick Clooney's column Orchids offers fine food, warm memories today in which he recounts his youthful anniversary gift blunders to Nina. But this year, she took the bull by the horns and suggested they have dinner at Orchids, a fine dining restaurant in beautiful French Art Deco-style room adjacent to the Netherland Plaza Hotel's lobby. Nick reminisces:
When we were very young, an aunt took Rosemary, Betty and me to lunch there at a restaurant that had a tiny ice rink in the center. I ate a club sandwich while two skaters did a routine for all of us, complete with spins and stops that sprayed ice on those closest to the rink. Fantastic.

But times have changed and as Nina observed upon their arrival for dinner:
...Nina looked up at the soaring ceiling for a long moment. Then she said, "You know, when a unique place like this is built, it's necessary to keep it as it was, not change it. It tells such a great story of optimism and expectations. You can learn all you need to know about Cincinnati and some of its great days just by sitting here."

And how true her observation is. There's nothing like slipping into the elegant bar at the Palm Court and sipping a flute of bubbly to make me feel transported to another place. Like, maybe, Paris?

Sunday, August 27, 2006

There's No Place Like Home!

And I am so glad to be here again! Saturday afternoon marked my release from captivity and I was greeted by the smiling face of my baby brother and chauffeured home by my bleary-eyed good friend, Ed, a jazz pianist who rarely ventures forth in the light of day. I guess my long-suffering, now neurotic kitty cat, the Princess Girl Boo, is the only one who doesn't have her own website!

Many thanks to all of those in this great community of food blogging who sent their love and best wishes for my recovery. My thank you to them can be read here.

Friday, August 25, 2006

A Quiet Evening with Monk, Chips on the Side


So. It's Friday night and my last in the captivity of a hospital (I hope!) And instead of making an appearance at the Blue Wisp and paying respects to the memory of my late friend, Marjean, I will be taking to my bed for a long evening of bad cable television options and snacks. There will be no fragrant glass of Cotes du Rhone for me; no warm onion naan to snack on. Instead I find my libation to be just a lonely can of warm Coke Zero and its natural accompaniment, chips. But for this special night, not just any chips, my friend. Chips from as close as I will get to Martha's Vineyard this year: Cape Cod Old Fashioned Kettle-Cooked Sea Salt and Cracked Pepper Potato Chips! To quote the company's website: "...the ultimate in gourmet indulgence..." -- and why not? They will undoubtedly be the perfect snack for watching the series finale of Monk, a show which has definitely grown on me since I've been here.

And I am really going to miss him!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Piano Man's Primo Pasta & Pizza Sauce

My friend Rob Kunkel is a jazz pianist who lives in Palm Desert, California, but he is also a fine writer of what might be thought of as kind of "pocket portraits" of people and places. These are most often found on the Writerly Concerns section of the T. Coraghessan Boyle Messageboard, a place where we first encountered each other about seven years ago.

Rob is also a connoisseur of the finer things of life and in a recent post he offered this flexible recipe for what I choose to think of as
The Piano Man's Primo Pasta & Pizza Sauce

Cut tomatoes into quarters and saute slowly in olive oil and butter. Add sweet Italian sausage, oregeno, cumin, fresh garlic, black olives, red pepper flakes, onion powder, lots of fennel seed, romano grated cheese, salt, pepper, kitchen bouquet, red wine, vinegar, raw sugar, red and green bell peppers diced and tabasco. Simmer for 4 hours over very low heat [stirring frequently to prevent burning]. Seal in ball jars and freeze. Improves any pasta or can be used as pizza sauce with homemade crust or baguettes. Serve with Bardolino wine. Frozen this sauce will keep a year.

Sandye-that sauce is from my youth 1965--Michigan city Indiana-created by the Martorano family and yes the taste of the fennel is the true kick---------of course I leave the measure for each spice to each chef personal taste.

And, as Garrett of Vanilla Garlic might say, "I really heart me some fennel seeds!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

And They Say Crime Doesn't Pay

Forgive me for not blogging about something appetizing today, but I am still in the hospital, far from my kitchen and farther still from feeling inspiration today. The good news is that I am finally going home on Saturday. The bad news is that I have much to do in the way of re-arranging and adapting my kitchen and cooking habits to my existing limitations. I know I will do it, but it seems like a big job at the moment!

Anyway, in reading the Sunday papers, I just couldn't let this choice little morsel of food news get away. Jocelyn Gecker of Associated Press reported that John Mark Karr, the self-described killer of JonBenet Ramsay:
...sipped champagne and ate fried king prawns in business class Sunday after being put aboard a flight to Los Angeles to face charges in the United States....

Before takeoff, Karr took a glass of champagne from a flight attendant and clinked glasses with [an investigator with the Boulder District Attorney's office], who sipped orange juice.

Dinner on board, served on a starched white tablecloth, was one many passengers would envy. Karr started with a pate, then had a green salad with walnut dressing. The main course was fried king prawn with steamed rice and broccoli. Karr drank a beer, crushing the can with his hands when it was empty, then moved on to a glass of French chardonnay with his main course.

Nothing like bread and water, is it?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Down to the Wire in Hell's Kitchen

Hmm. Celebrity Spider reports that Chef Ramsay will appear as himself in an episode of Fox's long-running cartoon series, The Simpsons.
[He] will teach bumbling Homer Simpson how to cook in the episode, but producers have yet to confirm whether the foul-mouthed chef will keep his expletive-laden vocabulary on the family show.

Ramsay says, "I was really honored. I don't know how they're going to do it, but I hope they keep the swearing in."

Well. And now, on with the show! Were you as flabbergasted as I was by Virginia managing to replicate Chef's signature dish last week? Grapefruit juice? Oh, really!

Up until now, we have never been given a real chance to see why the cooks on the show this season were chosen to participate. At least last year, it made some sense. Ralph was a mid-career working chef; Michael, despite all his body art and piercings was a sous chef in L.A.; lesbian punkette headhunter Jessica and Hispanic mom Elsie had mastered the basics of cooking and were up to the challenge of learning more; and they were all passionate about their vocation. This season, it is an absolute mystery to me how most of these characters ever got chosen in the first place. Or maybe that's it. They were chosen more as "characters" than cooks. And for Virginia and Heather to be the finalists -- well, I was rooting for Heather from the beginning, but she seemed to crack under pressure a little too often and, for a heavily publicized "newlywed", Virginia seemed less qualified in her actual cooking experience than she was interested in impressing Chef with her flirting and sexual innuendos. And all of that crying -- oh, honey, just gag me with a spoon!

All I can conclude is that the editing this season has intentionally kept the audience totally in the dark as to the real goings-on in the kitchen. It seems quite impossible to believe that any of these candidates really deserve the reward of having such a high-end restaurant to run in Las Vegas. And anyone not in the food industry, but who's read Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential knows that an executive chef must have a lot more skills than any of these people have exhibited thus far.

Oh, well. At least my M & M's connection showed up this afternoon, so now I have my stash at the ready for Monday night's finale. Go, Heather!

Hell's Kitchen 2-Hour Finale
Tonight on Fox, 8-10pm ET/PT.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Dreaming of Dari-Crest

Today marks the beginning of my seventh week of hospitalization and summer will soon be over, and I have yet to make a pilgrimage to Dari Crest. Maybe it's because I still remember so fondly those visits we used to make to Dairy Queen as a special treat on the way home from visiting Grampa Cam -- (my brother and I would even playDairy Queen at his house, pretending to order from and to serve each other, opening and closing the louvered window on his back porch to add just that soupcon of reality!) -- but, as an adult today, soft-serve just seems so, well, juvenile, doesn't it? Super-premium ice cream, sorbet, and gelato all have their time and place, but, I don't care, I love soft-serve anyway, and was surprised to read a few years ago about a home-grown original only a mile or so from that old Dairy Queen we used to go to in Latonia.

Cincinnati CityBeat had a great article in June 2003 called Chillin' at the Dairy Bar. It showcased the variety of independent dairy bars operating in the Greater Cincinnati area and, although I had been to Putz's several times before, it was the first time I'd ever heard of Dari-Crest. One Wednesday night that summer, my friend Robin allowed herself to be talked into driving there and, after I'd given her only one wrong turn, we found ourselves looking at the old stand, freshly painted purple and pink, on the edge of Latonia, Kentucky. Soon we were standing at the window, perusing the overwhelming list of flavors, like nothing I'd ever seen in soft-serve. There were twenty-four flavors: not only vanilla and chocolate, but including maple nut, espresso, pistachio and crème de menthe. Thinking it might be a long time between visits (and has it ever--three years ago and counting!) and after tasting a few flavors, I ordered a sugar cone of maple nut to eat at the pretty purple picnic table on the grassy edge near the parking lot and a "Shake-a-Sundae", in which, yes, a shake is topped by a sundae in various flavors, but mine was black-raspberry shake with a pineapple sundae--a real treat!

Next time I'm taking my camera!

Dari-Crest
3024 Madison Avene
Covington, KY 41015
(859) 261-4709

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Champ...Again!

As those of you familiar with T. Coraghessan's short stories and novels can attest, he has an appetite for characters who love to eat and/or create food. And his story, The Champ, about competitive eating, might come to mind when hearing about the great young Japanese "competitive eating" champion Takeru Kobayashi and his latest feat. Kobayashi-san, who weighs a middleweight 160 pounds and hails from Nagoya, Japan, successfully managed to consume 58 brats in 10 minutes last Saturday at the Johnsonville World Brat Eating Championship in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. Considered by some as one of the world's best eaters, Kobayashi earned $8,000 for his efforts. After winning, he told the crowd, "They're good. I want to take some home." Kobayashi also successfully defended his crown as king of the hot dog eaters in the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Championship in New York in July. "Brats are a little bit harder to eat," he said. "With hot dogs, it's more volume. You're actually dipping the buns in water."

J. Scott Wilson of KCCI.com in Des Moines, Iowa offers this plea:
I'm calling for an investigation of Kobayashi, starting with an X-ray and possibly including an MRI. I'm betting that somewhere in the region of his solar plexus, the scans will reveal a contained singularity, a harnessed black hole, of the type most famously used by Romulan battle cruisers in "Star Trek." The dogs go in ... and materialize in another universe, where the inhabitants have no doubt by this time built an elaborate shrine to the Tubular Meat God.

Photos of Kobayashi in action.

Kinkead Ridge Bests French Winery in Ohio Challenge

Wow! Just visited Jens Rosenkrantz Jr.'s Cincinnati Wine Warehouse blog and found his post about Ohio's Kinkead Ridge Winery being a recent winner in the Ohio Wine Challenge. Its 2004 Viognier/Roussanne blend beat out a 2003 Domaine du Vieux Lazeret, a French Chateauneuf-du-Pape!

And here is a recipe for Wild Violet Dessert Wine, as hand-crafted by Nancy Bentley, courtesy of Kinkead Ridge.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

"Joy of Cooking" still cooks!

Did you happen to see the article in last Sunday's New York Times Book Review titled Backlist to the Future by Rachel Donadio (July 30, 2006)? I was drawn to it by the fact that the title made me curious since my friend, T. Coraghessan Boyle (author of the short story from which both my blog and I take our names), has all of his many short story collections and novels still in print and on Viking/Penguin's backlist.

What really struck me about Ms. Donadio's piece was how important an individual book can be business-wise for publishers. In this specific case it was:
The backlist can also drive business acquisitions. Simon & Schuster bought McMillan in 1994 partly for its backlist, which included "The Joy of Cooking." The cookbook's heavily updated 1997 edition has sold 1.7 million copies. (Several earlier editions also remain in print.)

If anyone ever asked what book I consider to be my "bible" of cooking it would have to be "Joy." From the first copy I received from Santa back in 1970, to the new, updated edition of 1997, "Joy" has seen me through all the mysteries of cooking, from timing of cooking various meat and fish parts through searching for substitutions of ingredients and much, much more. Its little red ribbon bookmark, so conveniently and thoughtfully attached to the book, serves as a memory marker for my last adventure. And the recipe for Blackberry Jam Cake (with its beautiful lavender batter) with Caramel Icing can't be beat!

"The Joy of Cooking" has special meaning to Cincinnati area cooks because its authors, Irma Rombauer and her daughter, Marian Rombauer Becker, are Cincinnatians. Their home, the house that "Joy" built, was referred to as "Cockaigne" which Wikipedia describes as "the land of Cockaigne was a fictional utopia, a place where, in a parody of paradise, idleness and gluttony were the principal occupations." Marian Becker was one of three women who, in 1939, founded Cincinnati's Modern Art Society which later became The Contemporary Arts Center. Her son Ethan is the co-author, along with Marian Cunningham, of the 1997 revision. Ironically, in a six-degrees-of-separation-kind-of-way, my former next door neighbor, a very nice guy who now lives with his wife in a log cabin in the country and has survivalist tendencies, is friends with Ethan Becker because they both like to make their own knives!

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Missing Boca

It's been a long and dreary summer for yours truly, stuck in hospitals for the past five weeks with one or two more yet to come, and, after the uninspiring institutional dishes I've become used to having lately, I find my mind drifting back over some of my favorite food memories.

Once upon a time, circa late winter 1996, a 60 seat storefront resto opened for dinner only in the soon-to-be-hip Northside neighborhood of Cincinnati. This small building, lovingly restored from its abandoned status by chef Dan Reis and resplendent with bright blue awnings, was dubbed Boca or "mouth" in Spanish, the culinary "baby" of Dan and his Australian wife, pastry chef Cathy Reis. Attracted to the Hamilton Avenue business district by the then-recent influx of what we would now refer to as the creative class and "urban pioneers" renovating the large, old homes nearby, Northside seemed like the perfect place to launch the Reises' venture: Cincinnati's first adventurous little place featuring contemporary, yet not fussy, American food with prices that didn't require a second mortgage to pay for. Opening to rave reviews, almost immediately Boca became the new place to see and be seen, drawing capacity crowds nearly every night. Having dined there soon became a status symbol for those who fancied themselves to be in the know.

My dear friend Rikly and I had our first taste of Boca when he treated me to a birthday dinner that May. I remember we opened with a Boca's signature "napoleon" ($6.25), described by the Cincinnati Post's Amy Culbertson as a minimalist composition layering smoked salmon and cucumber ribbons between crisp wonton squares, with translucent pale-green scallion oil dotted about the plate. For salad, we each chose the Caesar, grandly built from several unblemished full-size leaves of romaine artfully fanned across a white dinner plate and garnished with large freshly shaved slices of Parmesan cheese; the waitron, standing there at our beck and call to whip out his "Rubirosa" and add freshly ground pepper to the dressing. We also went in a big way for the grilled mahi-mahi: a generous chunk of fish, served over a crispy pancake of sweet potato and fennel with sauteed escarole ($13). I'm sure there was a slice of Cathy's delish flourless chocolate cake to cap the night off; after all, Boca is where I first found pleasure in the joy of chocolate and red wine taken together. Thanks to Cathy Reis, Boca is also where I received to my introduction to Australian wine and that noble Shiraz grape, to which I am now devoted.

A couple of years later, my friend David T., the art dealer who was then supplying artwork for the restaurant, invited me to lunch there with him. He chose to order "Boca fries" for us to share, raving about how good they were, and was he spot on on that count! Although not what we would commonly think of as fries, these were small new potatoes in their jackets, cut in half and deep-fried until brown on the outside and soft on the inside. Sprinkled with coarse grains of salt, they were served with a pre-bottled sweet, but peppery, Thai chili sauce, probably from Saigon Market at Findlay Market downtown. I ran straight out to buy that chili sauce, child, but chose to oven-roast my version of the potatoes. They're still great!!

But probably my favorite dish at Boca was a lunchtime sandwich of grilled, sliced pork loin on grilled focaccia, garnished with grilled slices of thinly sliced onion, green, red, and yellow bell peppers. There was a generous dollop of apricot chutney adding some exotic flavor to the mix and it was all served with a simple salad of baby greens doused with the house balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Oh, how I wish I could have one for dinner tonight!

Although I had quibbles with their policy of not taking reservations -- this usually required waiting diners to amble a couple of doors down the block, in the company of a beeper, to have a drink or two at a nearby gay bar while waiting to be summoned back for a table -- legend has it that a certain former director of The Contemporary Arts Center disliked it even more, once arriving there at 8 pm on a Saturday night with a party of six and, when told he would have to wait like everyone else, grandly stated: "But, don't you know who I am? I am Chuckles So-and-So and I wait for no one!" When told it was the restaurant's policy, he simply turned and walked out with his guests. What a drama queen. Oh, please, powers-that-be: let us have more evenings like that one! ;-)

The only other turnoff about Boca, and it's an important one, was the sound level. It was designed using that 80s uber-philosophy of "loud"="fun". Well, baby, it doesn't in my book! The rooms, with natural woodwork, walls painted a lovely shade of pale yellow and adorned with contemporary art works by local painters and printmakers, also featured hardwood floors and very high tin ceilings, making for an atmosphere which was less than conducive for conversation over a romantic dinner. Nevertheless, the food was to die for and my grievances were by far outweighed by dining there.

Although it was only 10 years ago, I cannot believe how Cincinnati restaurant prices have ballooned since then. IMHO, it's one thing to pay New York prices in New York, but quite a different matter to pay New York prices in Cincinnati.

For the record, here are some of prices for some selected items at Boca circa 1996-97:

Rustic antipasto: deeply flavored pickled eggplant, gingered beets, tendrils of caramelized onion, roasted orange bell peppers and a wedge of warm herbed frittata ($5.50)

Herbal mixed-mushroom risotto with caramelized onions and fried capers ($9.50)

Lemon-pepper linguine with baby tomatoes, leeks, pinenuts and Italian herbs ($8.75)

Mammoth pork chop, house-smoked then grilled and gilded with a generous serving of a tomato relish ($12.75)

Crispy Skin Griddle Chicken garnished with grilled prosciutto and house-dried Roma tomatoes on a bed of buttermilk polenta ($10.75)

Brunch
Barbados coconut bread with honeycomb butter ($3.50)
Scrambled eggs with smoked salmon and chives ($7.75)
French toast with toasted pecans, mascarpone and maple syrup ($5.25)
Corn, sweet-potato and parmesan frittata with a salad of baby greens ($6.75)
Homemade granola with fresh fruit and maple yogurt ($3.50)

General Prices: Dinner entrees $8.75-$13.50, appetizers $4.75-$6.25; lunch sandwiches $4.25-$5.50; desserts $3.50-$4.25.

Note: While there is still a fine restaurant in Cincinnati named Boca it features Italian food and has nothing to do with the original one which closed several years ago.