Monday, November 10, 2008

In the Garden of Eden, Baby!

When we lived at 27 W 27 Street we'd shop at the Garden of Eden on 23rd Street. It's small by Key Foods and Whole Foods standards but was big enough. Their roast chickens were awesome. You could have one of those over arugula and voila, delish meal. The roommates used to sing "In the Garden of Eden" to the tune to "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." I have since found out that the song was originally supposedly "In the Garden of Eden" anyway. I've since learned the meaning of the word mondegreen.
The Garden of Eden isn't typical of a supermarket, it doesn't have that tile floor, lots of steel shelves look. Instead there are baskets hanging from the ceiling, nice lighting, lots of wood and a very helpful cheese monger.
Whole Foods moved into the neighborhood but so far The Garden of Eden persists. Its roast chickens thrash the Whole Foods ones and the lines tend to be shorter.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Traditional recipes call for the sheep's pluck and lights (stomach, liver, heart and lungs). If I ever found myself in a place where I could get all these things and people were clamoring for a haggis I'd love to try to make it that way.

Haggis is like meatloaf or shepherd's pie or corned beef hash. Ground up meat with lots of savory spices. What separates haggis though is that it's prepared with oatmeal and it's steamed or boiled. That and it's also made with offal (see paragraph one). Any recipe that uses what might otherwise go to waste is a pretty good thing in my book.

I've made it. Sort of. If you stick to the spirit of the recipe (offal, oatmeal and boiled/steamed) and don't get hung up on using sheep's pluck and lights. Over the course of six months or so I had cooked three ducks, each time, freezing the heart, liver and neck (don't remember if there were gizzards too...) I thawed (almost wrote unthawed) these and then boiled, chopped fine and combined them in a bowl with roasted oatmeal, spices (primarily Allspice) and a bit of whisky. Knowing that a sheep's pluck would be hard to come by and be way too big for the minuscule amount of meat I was working with I decided I'd go with casings. Stuffing them was messy - I'm using a pastry bag next time... I ended up with these sausage looking thingies which I proclaimed to be duck haggis. Next time I'll probably go with a beef bung for the casing and serve it more like a hash than a sausage. Haggis isn't the prettiest dish going but I'm not too worried about presentation since it'll probably end up being a haggis for one (though I'm hoping for two).


Monday, October 20, 2008


I'm just beginning to explore the world of goat. Even so I've come a long way. It'd be hard not to when it used to be that my two biggest exposures to it were the occasional log of cheese and my friend Andy telling me not to call him "goat head" after I'd say "go ahead."

Goat the meat - had a handful of times, almost always something stew-like. Is there a goat steak? How about a goat burger with goat cheese, really peppery arugula (forget the baby stuff) and sauteed red onions? Goat carpaccio with a drizzle of olive oil and sea salt and something green on top - rosemary? Sounds like it'd be pretty tasty.

And the ones I do know I'd like to get to know better - goat cheese - Saturday. Goat's milk ice cream - last night. (Supposedly this ice cream has less fat than cow's milk ice cream but it tastes so so much more decadent - I recommend the vanilla - put some maple syrup from the NEK on it.) Goat butter - forgot where that was from (picked it up in the Park Slope Food Coop) - it has its own taste and it melts more easily than cow's milk - a bonus if you keep your butter in the fridge. And tonight - radishes with goat cheese spread atop. (Mmm, thank you, M.)

And now, if you'll excuse me I'm going to goat head and have dinner.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Fries with Gravy

Burlington, VT, the late eighties - after going downtown and hitting the Last Chance, Rasputin's, What Ales You, Minerva's (later NRG later the Outback) or Hunt's we'd just about always stop off at Nectar's. We'd stop in for one last beer we didn't need and for fries with gravy we really didn't need.

Getting it to go from the take out window was not the way to go. You wanted to go in and order it from a thin man dressed in white with thick glasses. You wanted to say fries with extra gravy so you got gravy in a little heavy white bowl for dipping. You wanted it placed on a plastic tray or as my friend Thatchy once said, trastic play.

I haven't been back to Nectar's in years. I see the fries are called gravy fries on their menu, , but don't remember their being called that (otherwise I'd have to file this under G). Going back would be be like visiting a childhood home you had left ages ago. You go back and your memories of what was are changed a little bit by what is.

Just why did I like these fries so much? Al's Fries are awesome too, in a different way but I don't get all nostalgic over them. Nectar's were fairly soft, small steak fries smothered with a brown creamy gravy. You used a fork to eat them once you got to the ones that were completely covered and soft with gravy. Sometimes what makes a food special isn't the food but what comes with the food. You didn't want to get these fries to go in a big soft Styrofoam container and if you did you certainly didn't want to have them the next day when they'd be more like mashed potatoes than fries. You wanted to have them while they were hot and you were at Nectar's with the music in the next room with a Bud long neck. More importantly though, you wanted to have these fries with your friends. These fries are all about sharing. Three, four, five people in a booth or at a table sharing a large plate of fries going over the night's misadventures. It's communal like Thanksgiving and place-specific like sugar on snow. You could scoop up some snow, heat up some syrup and have it at home but there's only one place you should have that and that's in the sugar house while they're boiling. And Nectar's fries with gravy at Nectar's.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Was never much of a fan of eggplants either, didn't have them growing up and when I did later they were either served up in eggplant parmesan (when chicken parm was so much more satisfying) or served up as part of a summer vegetable mix, dripping with what was a half a step up from bath water.

A few years ago I decided I was going to give to try preparing them myself. I followed Alton Brown's advice (I followed a transcript from his eggplant show) to draw as much water out of them as possible and then to treat them like a steak I salted the bejesus out of them, squeezed out the water and ended up with these limp dishrags of pale vegetable. I like the taste of Worcestershire sauce but not so much that it could compensate for the bland eggplant. And referring to these things as steak was generous, tuna steak and portabello steaks, those I can see. My eggplant dislike had been reconfirmed.

A couple weeks ago I decided they would make a good letter E. I could complain about them, refer to them as vapid waterlogged sponges, it was going to be good. So I bought the three in the picture, the big one at the Grand Army Farmers Market and the two little shavers at the Park Slope Food Coop and was going to make something. It would further prove how bland and watery these things are. Their time arrived. When I went to prepare them the big one was growing some white fuzzies out of a dent I hadn't noticed before. The big one had had the radish so I tossed it out and turned my attention to the two little ones. I decided to cut them into slices and sautee them up with garlic and duck fat. I usually cook with olive oil but decided I'd pull out all the stops. I cooked the eggplant and garlic for 30 minutes and then poured them (soft soft eggplant and brown crunchy garlic, just shy of burnt and just shy of bitter) over arugula and sprinkled on some goat cheese. The eggplant had soaked up lots of duck fat deliciousness and the garlic gave it crunch, the arugula's pepperiness and the goat cheese joined in. Mmmm. Maybe I could have fried up discs of cardboard and they would have tasted as good. Doesn't matter - eggplant is pretty good and it won't be five years before I cook it next time.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Dos Equis

I always used to think Dos Equis meant two horses. The two exes on the label along with the complete absence of horses should have tipped me off but they didn't. In hindsight I thought of those exes the way you see three exes on a bottle of granny's moonshine on "The Beverly Hillbillies" - it meant hooch, somewhat old hooch with a storied past. It was the first Mexican beer I ever tried and the exes gave it history and made me feel it might have a higher alcohol content. In college we would make Brador runs - trips over the border to get the 6.2% Molson Bradors. After college I moved to Boston and took Spanish classes through an extension class. It was there that I discovered Dos Equis were Two Exes. Humbling and mind opening.

I've had a few similar moments.

As kids we didn't have much control over what we'd watch on TV. I remember "The Lawrence Welk Show," "Hee Haw," "The Flip Wilson Show," The Carol Burnett Show" and "The Beachcombers" over on CBC - some were more painful than others and some kept using a word as they'd go to a break or come back from one. The word I heard was brochtoyubied. I never saw it spelled out so that spelling is mine. A few years later I found it was four words - "brought to you by."

Home in East Charleston, whenever we would take meat out of the freezer, it wasn't to thaw it but was rather to unthaw it. You would unthaw food but there would not be a spring unthaw - that was a spring thaw. Again years passed before I ever figured out that I was thawing instead of unthawing. I took the name of the blog from this unthawing of food. I like the idea of learning through food or remembering through food.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


I don't know where to start. Corncob pipes, popcorn, corn flakes with hot milk and sugar in France, corn on the cob (delicious Jersey corn two weeks ago), high fructose corn syrup or the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD. So I'm going to go further back.

I used to live next to a cornfield. This one was used to feed the cows, the cows that lived at the farm on the other side of the cornfield. It was the same farm my Mom grew up on.

When we moved to Charleston, VT we lived with Grammie at that farm. It was a farm without animals when we were there. I was six. I realized later that a farm without animals is a sad thing. My grandpa, who used to stuff grass down the backs of us kids' shirts, had recently passed so there was just Grammie there . We lived there a couple years until the house was built on the other side of the field. Grammie then sold the farm and bought a small house across the road from us.

One of my fondest memories of that time, besides how soft Grammie's cheek was when I kissed her good night, was my brother and I riding our red tricycles in the white-washed empty barn. We weren't used to riding on anything smoother than a dirt driveway so a smooth cement floor in a barn was a nice change. Not only did we have a fast surface but there were also the slopes from up where the stanchions were down to the middle of the barn along the gutters. We couldn't drive into the milk house because there was a step but otherwise we'd zip all around that barn. My trike was faster than his - probably because mine was tricked out with stickers from Wonder Bread - Peanuts characters.

A few years later, after we'd graduated to two wheels, we'd ride our bikes in the cornfield that now belonged to the guy who had bought the farm (purchased is probably a better way to put it - I think he's still with us). There was a path along the corn we'd follow and then we'd dive off and ride along the rows as far as we could go, our handlebars barely fitting amongst the rows, leaves slapping us, tassels waving, a cloud of pollen in our wake.

I'll get up there again at the end of this month.

Saturday, August 2, 2008


I'm not a big fan. Mom would pickle up a bunch of beets. We kids had to eat them. In my distant memory I can hear her saying "President Nixon says you have to eat everything on your plate." No option of saying "No Mom, thanks, no beets for me tonight." If that had been an option I would have avoided many a slab of beef liver and hogshead cheese.
I would have a pickled beet sitting on my white plate, its dark red juice advancing on the boiled potatoes I had just mashed, pats of butter melting into the fork tracks. I don't think anyone else in the family except Mom liked them but she kept on making them. I was always wondering why not use those Ball canning jars for more dill pickles? Or pickled eggs. Mom likes beets. She was in charge of the garden, did the cooking, controlled what went on the table so we got beets. She'd boil them, too. That would mellow out their colors a bit but there was still this earthy beet smell about them. Can you saute' them, make into beet tempura? Is there any way to make them taste good besides masking their beetiness in a soup?

I bought some beets today at the Grand Army Farmers Market. I believe that your sense of taste changes as you grow older so make a point of going back and trying things I didn't like in the past. Eggplant, zucchini, Chardonnay, your turns are coming.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A is for Apple

The apples trees up on the Crowe had been planted years earlier. We used to climb them. These days I'd worry more about knocking their dry bluish white moss/lichen off them or their just giving up the ghost and snapping. Climbing these trees I used to think they had to be related to roses what with their knobby thorns that broke off, marking your climb.

We had a potato piece with the apples off to the sides up on the hill shared by my aunts and uncles. I'd always thought that potatoes were something you grew with other families and that everything else you did yourself. Now there is no shared piece. The families do their own thing, grow their own things or buy them.

I didn't like working on the potatoes. It was so dry. There'd be us kids who'd walk along the dusty hills scouting the leaves for the nefarious speckle-shelled potato bug and then plinking them into a coffee can. The rows seemed to go on forever and it was thirsty. You don't plant potatoes in the shade.

The piece was along a stone wall, it's largely overgrown by trees now. It's the same wall where three years ago when the weather was so warm that instead of going out hunting I went out with a chainsaw and an over/under (just in case). Of course I saw a deer then. By the time I'd set the chainsaw down the bouncing white tail was out of sight.

We used to ride up to the potato piece on a wooden trailer towed by Uncle Elvin's tractor. You couldn't get there in a car - the road wasn't very accommodating that way.

After we'd worked in the potato piece we kids would climb the trees. Cousin Bucky and I would climb up into the apple trees, we'd eat the apples, mainly light green-skinned and sour - I know of stomach aches. Mom would make pies, the apples would fill the two crisper drawers of the fridge, she would cut them up and freeze them into bags she kept in the fridge in the cellar.

Not all apples were destined for pies - my cousins, brother and I would find saplings and use them to launch apples. Every time I see the sticks people use to throw tennis balls a long ways for their dogs I'm reminded of launching apples.