Monday, August 23, 2010

Eating through my youth.

It's no mystery that the people we are today is thanks to no small part of who we were yesterday. I was a skinny long haired street kid with an eye for the pretty girls and friends too numerous to count. Food played a big part in my 'growing up in Brooklyn' experience.

I had never even heard of Chef Boyardee's SpaghettiOs until I was about 15 after my brother had turned to them while my parents were away for a few days. Even early on, I could never bring myself to it; Jack's Grocery is where I could be found at such a time; homemade rare roast beef hero, piled about an inch thick, with yellow American cheese, mayo and black pepper. Manhattan Special was always the drink of choice. If I was extra hungry, I would order a 3/4 size hero or maybe some fresh potato salad in a cup--My size 28 army fatigues or chinos knew no limits.

My mother could always be found in the general area of the oven (remember, this is the day before the two income households became the norm), be it eggplant parm, tender veal & peppers in a red sauce, numerous chicken dishes , fried pork chops and rice, potato & egg sandwiches or meatballs & sausages in the Sunday gravy with home made raviolis or manicotti. (We had a tune we sang to the Village People's 'In The Navy': 'In the gravy, that's where you mother puts the meat'). One loaf of crusty Italian bread was relegated just for dipping while we waited picked on some cold antipasto. Earlier in my life, I have memories of ‘gravy sandwiches’ which is exactly what they sound like; only when I turned about 12 or 13 did I move onto meatball or sausage sandwiches. There was always a ton of food, just in case someone popped in, and pop-ins were numerous, especially our friends, who always called mom 'mom', just as we did theirs. If I made the run to the corner for the days Italian bread chances are that the breads 'asses' would be missing by time I got home, and I always got grief for it. It's a little habit my grandfather Frank taught me when I was about 4 while walking back from the bakery on Knickerbocker Ave. I can still hear my grandmother Carmella yelling at him in her broken English. If I say my mom is a great cook, my grandmother was an INCREDIBLE cook. People would go out of their way to stop in on Sundays just to be served something Carmella had on the stove. I have vivid memories of about 15 people sitting around the huge table. Early in her life she had and unfortunate accident when a bottle exploded in her hands and her palms had been sewn together in the emergency room since there was no extra household money to have them seen to correctly, resulting in nerve damage. Today I can still recall in my minds eye standing on that cold linoleum floor that so badly needed replacing, as she measured ingredients with her cupped hand.

Back in our house one night a week was for slumming', usually Mondays where we might have had Sabrett hotdogs (because that's what the ‘dirty water’ vendors sold in the city) and beans or maybe just Sunday's leftovers. I can tell you that no-one ever complained (remind me at a later date to tell you the story why my dad threw a fully loaded dog, 'kraut' and all at my head during a heated dinnertime 'discussion'; we still speak of it). Funny, because it was also a hot dog that I had choked on that made my dad proclaim he would never take me to another ballgame again. (Shea Stadium, circa 1965). He did anyway.

Some misnomers I have carried through my life; To this day I still believe shaken milk is colder; ripped Italian bread tastes better than cut.

And then there was the 2 inch grasshopper in my sautéed spinach story...(how's that for 'fresh!). For a treat on some Saturdays , we would have 'steak sandwiches'; Fridays might be take-away Chinese food. We all had out own preferences, I preferred Szechuan, my parents, Cantonese. I liked that my place put thinly chopped lettuce into the 'Special' spicy fried rice. As I got older the discussion on where to order from always took place. In the end, he who paid, selected. My special fried rice would have to wait for my walk by. Pizza was 50 cent a slice and wonderful. My friends and myself could always be found in Pino’s on bath Avenue, or Lenny’s on 86th street. We were fans before Travolta stacked his slices. Who did that silly move anyhow? Nobody I knew (the producers must have missed that in their 'local color' research'.

Once I started working (13), I always had my own funds for food. On Fridays, I would always treat my 'non-working' friends to Carmines Hot Dog truck across from Jr. High 281; hot dog heroes for all! This was an amazing combo of 2 'water dogs' in a perfectly fitted piece of Italian bread with spicy mustard served off of a spinning wooden stick, all for a buck--- including drink. Carmine had great NY style pretzels as well, not that crap you see today. More mustard please!

Mom's creations on holidays were usually lasagna and..... Lasagna and turkey, Lasagna and ham, Lasagna and beef roast. Birthday’s were choice (3 brothers and a younger sister who did not need a holiday to get her way). I always chose raviolis; I once ate 24 at one sitting and I was very proud of myself. Christmas eve was all the fish. My favorite was steamed scugilli with a hot sauce and a hard Italian biscuit that had to be soaked in water before even attempting to bite into. We always had 3 types of shrimp but the fried never lasted very long. Lobster tails in marinara with linguine, fried lemon sole (which only my parents ever ate), and golden deep fried calamari rings with a perfectly seasoned marinara sauce. It was amazing just watching her ‘in her element’. Christmas day was everything and anything you might imagine; we would start at noon and would not leave the table until 6 pm. Mom made it all look so easy. I know I got my love for cooking from her. I remember visiting with aunts and uncles, there was always something that had to wait on the back burner for everything else to be completed, usually meaning it was cold, mushy, or something over-thickened because of the waiting. To this day that is still one of my cooking pet peeves, again because my moms timing was spot on! Today, when I say ‘dinner!’ you can be sure everyone shows up quickly, else I will hunt them down.

These days my mom says that I am a better cook than she; imagine how I must feel with such a glowing review. My dad does not agree--he actually did not eat my food, until just recently. I think he feels in a way he is 'cheating' on her, and god-forbid he likes it!

Simple times & great days indeed!

2006 Jones Family The Sisters (USA, California, Napa Valley)

45 minute decant. Dark and ominous with red crimson edges. The nose is ungiving today, (more after an hour) but the palate is spot on, as usual. There is cassis driven black fruits with Kirsch Royal, pomegranate, clove, blackberries, black cherry, black and red raspberries. Its deep and plush with a fantastic balance. Tannins in check, acidity doing the high-wire. Decent plus finish. It's pure and enjoyable with out being complicated an ponderous. As a matter of fact, I have finally figured this wine out: THAT is this wines strength; clean, uncomplicated pleasure with elegance and some tight structure, all wrapped in a fifty dollar package and doesn't want to be anything but.Indeed. (93 points)