An in-person book dinner, a BLT from scratch...
What we're eating and drinking, watching and linking...
I’d been scheduled to do a book-and-dinner event at the restaurant Frame in Detroit’s Hazel Park neighborhood before the pandemic hit. Happily, Joe and Cari Vaughn asked me to return, now that the US is opening up, and I’m so happy they did. A renewed pleasure to be doing an in-person event at a restaurant. Actual conversations with real people over food and wine.
For several guests, including my Aunt Jeri and Uncle Carl, it was their first time out at a restaurant in more than a year.
The five-course dinner by Chef Barrera was based on my last cookbook, From Scratch, which shows how ten staple meals actually comprise more than 175 recipes—because one thing leads to another and ultimately everything is connected .
For instance, Barrera used the Roast Chicken to make a chicken salad; he took the homemade ricotta from my lasagna chapter and paired it with tomatoes so that the ricotta was center stage. Pastry chef Carla Spicuzzi took my classic profiteroles and paired them with a caramel sauce and ice cream and fresh green apple, rather than the traditional chocolate sauce. (Carameled apples, anyone?)
There was also a sweet corn risotto (using corncob broth for the stock) and the centerpiece was slow-roasted pork shoulder, which never fails to please.
But the food (and the excellent wine pairings by sommelier Sean Crenny, whom I’d last seen when he worked at per se, pre-pandemic) were not the personal highlight.
The book itself came about because of a blog post from more than ten years ago in which I asked readers to make a BLT from scratch: bake your own bread, grow your own lettuce and tomatoes, cure your own bacon, and make your own mayonnaise.
The most inspiring entry came from 10-year-old Emma Kate Smith, then in West Virginia, who, on hearing from her father (Walt Smith, one of my readers) about the BLT From Scratch Challenge, asked to do it with him. It became a great father-daughter bonding experience, with cooking and curing at its heart. Emma Kate wrote me the following letter:
I had fun making my BLT. First, my dad and me planted a garden in the summer. Then the tomatoes and lettuce sprouted. In September I cured the pork belly with some pink salt and put it in the refrigerator for one week. When it was done curing I put it on the smoker. When it was done my dad cut it on the slicer.
I can’t eat gluten (wheat, barley, rye), so I had to make Gluten-Free bread. First, I mixed some egg yolks into some rice flour with milk and yeast. Then we let it rise and put it in the oven.
I picked the tomatoes and some lettuce that looked like an oak leaf. My dad and I cooked the bacon then he cut some vegetables while I made mayonnaise in a little red mixer. I put lemon thyme in it, it’s my favorite herb. I didn’t like the mayonnaise but everyone else did.
I made the sandwiches and we had friends over for a dinner party. Everyone said it was the best BLT they ever had.
Thank you for having the contest,
Emma Kate Smith
When I scrolled down to see the photo of ten-year-old Emma Kate smiling in front of her BLT-from-scratch, I felt tears running down my cheeks. And I knew I wasn’t alone. In the first comment on this post, Claudia Young wrote, “So wonderful. Emma made me cry the good cry.”
A decade later, I dedicated From Scratch to Walt and Emma Kate Smith.
So, to come full-circle, I read Emma Kate’s letter aloud to the guests (below). Among them, Emma Kate’s father, Walt, who had driven from PA to be at the dinner. Emma Kate, now of course an adult, couldn’t get off work, alas. But it was great to see her dad.
What a fabulous evening it was. Thanks to the chefs and staff, and Cari and Joe Vaughn (Joe shot the photos in my and Polcyn’s book Pâté, Confit, Rillette and I’m grateful for his photos above.)
Savory Pies with Chef Polcyn…
We’re working on a savory pie book, me and Brian, so before the Frame dinner I spent a couple of days working with Brian in his kitchen on some of the pies.
Gosh, traveling to Syracuse to see my son, book work in Detroit, New York City with Ann—it’s starting to feel a little like pre-pandemic.
What we’re eating…
What do you serve a wife who has had no solid food for more than 24 hours? If you’re me, it’s chicken katsu, Ann’s request for her post colonoscopy meal.
It’s a truly delicious dish, though hard to photograph! It’s simply chicken breasts, flattened, breaded with Panko and pan-fried extra crispy. The genius is in the sauce, sometimes called tonkatsu sauce, which is equal parts ketchup and Worcestershire sauce, seasoned with a little molasses, soy, sugar and ginger. Ann came across this recipe in NYTimes Cooking, which is spot on.
The dish can also be made with pork cutlets. Or I’ll bet turkey, the most underused protein, would be fabulous.
And we had another round of blowtorch pork lo mein. Made even better as I gave Ann a proper blowtorch for Mother’s Day.
I think every woman should have a blow torch. —Julia Child.
Julia was right. (Below, Annabelle’s pal, Jaileen, wields the torch.)
Eating in NYC…
We had an absolutely stellar meal at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s The Fulton in the South Street Seaport district. All seafood, so simple and so clean, such as the fluke below. Many thanks to JG and Fulton chef Noah Poses.
The following afternoon, which happened to be Father’s Day, we joined our friends Annie and Richard LaGravenese for lunch at Marea. We had fabulous cocktails (though my gin and a mix of amari cost $23, also the cost of their Manhattan—no cocktail should cost this much). As we perused the menu we saw that Michael White was no longer associated with the restaurant. Alas it showed in the over-priced, mediocre pasta dishes we had. Cannot recommend—though it was so good to see our friends after so long, no matter the place.
What we’re drinking…
Negronis. Can’t get enough. And for Friday cocktail hour, Ann (in Providence) and I (in Manhattan) were joined by Matt Hranek to discuss this fine elixir and make the perfect one. Matt has just published Negroni: A Love Song To a Classic Cocktail and found we both preferred a 2:1:1 ratio as well as an affintiy for the amaro Punt y Mes.
This is one of the great cocktail templates. It gives us the Boulevardier and also, last night’s Friday Cocktail Hour cocktail, the mezcal Negroni, or Mezgroni. Happily we were joined by Wyn Cooper, an actual poet, who read his surprising poem, “Fun.”
2 ounces mezcal
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce Punt y Mes
orange wedge for garnish
Watch the Instagram Live video for the poem that became famous as a pop song.
What we’re watching…
Having finished, tearfully, The Durrells of Corfu, we had all kinds of time for new shows. By far the most exciting was Bo Burnham Inside on Netflix. The guy’s brilliant and funny, an extraordinary performer, and a technical wizard: he shot and recorded everything himself in a small LA guest house in an exquisite meta-comedy. Lyrics such as the following, sung to a snappy tune he plays on a key board, occasionally tapping a laugh-track button for a laugh:
I’m a special kind of white guy / I self-reflected, and I want to be an agent of change / So I am gonna use my privilege for the good (Very cool, way to go!) / American white guys / We’ve had the floor for at least four-hundred years / So maybe I should just shut the fuck up … [very long pause] I’m bored / I don’t wanna do that.
He’s saving the world with comedy!
We didn’t rush to watch Mare of Easttown because reviews were tepid. How wrong they were! This is a fabulous crime series starring Kate Winslet as a detective in a middle-class Pennsylvania suburb, with twists and turns in each of the seven episodes. Streaming on HBOmax.
While visiting Brian in Detroit, I rewatched In and of Itself, because Derek Delguadio’s an amazing story-teller and illusionist. (For those who saw it, know that my wife Ann was Miss Tomorrow. For those who haven’t seen it, watch it!)
And two new movies, the outstanding In the Heights, the movie version of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-award-winning musical staring a remarkable Anthony Ramos. Listen to Terry Gross’s Fresh Air interview—his is an amazing story.
And finally, while visiting son James at Syracuse, we went to Cruella, because he’s a major Emma Stone fan. I was surprised by what a pleasure it was—a clever delight. And it was a thrill to be back in an actual movie theater!
What we’re reading…
I’ve just picked up The Butchers, which Ann talked about in the previous letter, so I’ll let her describe what’s currently obsessing her:
“My niece Melissa gifted me an audio book of Ruth Ware’s novel The Death of Mrs. Westway with a note that said: the book is good, the woman reading it is great. Boy, was she right. As a reader still of real books, in the past two weeks I have listened to all of Ware’s books, read by the truly amazing Imogen Church. Start where I did, move on to The Turn of the Key, and just keep going.”
Links we’re loving…
Photographer George Tatakis, who grew up in Athens, Greece, found himself in a bakery on the nearby island of Karpathos, about 60 miles due east of Crete in the Aegean Sea. The owner of the store was dressed in what he assumed was ceremonial attire as she went about her business. He asked her was this attire for an Easter celebration? She said, No, these are my clothes. Tatakis realized there was much he didn’t know about his own country and set about exploring it. The New York Times published his stunning black-and-white photos of the dress of cultures on the many islands Greece comprises.
(Ann and I visited the island of Tinos, which was my first experience of Greece, a gem of an island near the overcrowded overpriced Mykonos, guests of dear friends. Had one of the most memorable meals of my life at To Thalassaki, as the ocean rose over the cement platform and waves crashed under our feet as we ate.)
Ever pause to wonder why the label for Angostura bitters is too big for the bottle? Here’s why. (TY, Lee Jacobs)
I found this exploration of the Elizabeth Bishop poem “One Art” fascinating. It’s part of The NYTimes’s Close Read interactive series. Dwight Garner and Parul Sehgal explore one the great American poems, a villanelle, the complicated 19-line repetitive rhyme scheme. Not only do they analyze the poem, they give this poem about deep loss—The art of losing isn’t hard to master, it begins—context, photos of Bishop and whom she lost, examples of other famous villanelles (Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle,” Plath’s “Mad Girl’s Love Song,” both about loss as well), and an exploration of Bishop’s numerous drafts that resulted in the final poem. An excellent deep dive into a great poem.
A.Word.A.Day. I always start my day off with Anu Garg’s word of the day. Not only is it fascinating even when you already know the word, it comes from the mind of a deeply humane (and often funny) individual. This post introducing last week’s theme, Rodents, for instance. Garg is a computer scientist (Master’s from Cleveland’s CWRU!), author, and a lover of a word’s biography, as he puts it. (And did you know the term rat race originated with actual rat races?
A man is the big loser in his fantasy football league. The punishment? Twenty-four hours in a Waffle House in Bessemer, Ala. The result? His Tweets from this less-than-venerable establishment brings him his 15 minutes of fame. He wrote his own story of the miserable ordeal for his paper, The Clarion Ledger.