A book and a hammock, a gin and tonic on the beach at sunset, barbecues after a day in the sun, board games at night—goodbye to all that! And goodbye to fair Westport. It was time to pack up the clothes and the knives and cutting board and coffee pot and empty the fridge and shake the sand out of the bedsheets and say farewell to our rental on the Westport River, a true summer idyll.
With thanks to all the friends and family who came to visit, so much fun to cook for so many.
How to cook ribs for a group on miniature kettle grill…
One of the great meals to cook for a group is ribs on the grill. People love them and they have to be done in advance. But how to manage it when your grill is only 18 inches (46 cm) in diameter? One slab of ribs is longer than that, not to mention several slaBs. How best to cook a lot of ribs that are smokey from the grill and sticky tangy sweet with barbecue sauce, and tender, if not falling of the bone?
Here is a great method for any tough cut of pork, whether it’s belly, ribs, or shoulder. Divide the labor: first flavor each slab with smoke and fire over coals; slow-cook in the oven for hours until tender; slather with barbecue sauce and finish under a high heat broiler.
Early in the day, with an icy Mayflower IPA in hand, I lit the mini grill. I cooked each rack (one I had to cut in half first), so that it had a gorgeous golden brown crust of smoke and fire (covered but well vented for lots of smoke, 15 to 20 minutes).
Once that was done (and you could do this a day before you wanted to serve them), I stacked them on top of each other and wrapped them tightly in foil, to allow the moist heat to tenderize the tough muscle, and put them in a 250˚F oven for 4 or 5 hours. I checked them until they were just the right amount of tender. I still like them a little chewy, not quite falling off the bone.
I slathered the above with Stubbs BBQ sauce (I’ve made my own BBQ sauce but have never achieved one that I liked better than bottled, at least for ribs), and broiled them until the sauce was charred and bubbling.
Serve with corn and summer tomatoes. A perfect, happy-making dinner.
Of Knives and Coffee Pots, Cutting Boards and Scales…
Having discussed last newsletter a couple items that we brought from home to the rental house, I was delighted to see David Lebovitz address a related topic in his ever excellent newsletter, what he brings to his hosts when he’s a guest: not only sharp knives, but also a cake pan and a scale (as he’s invariably called on to whip up dessert), among other items.
(Here’s his complete list, which seems to me would require several shopping bags. But then, as my pal Steve informed me when I was in college, “A guest should alway have to ring the host’s bell with his elbow.”)
Thomas Keller told me he always travels with items: Diamond Crystal kosher salt, butchers string, and a pepper mill that grinds finely.
Much of the same reasoning (what is essential that is not likely to be available) goes into what one brings to the rental, which for me includes a good set of measuring spoons, a quart/liter Pyrex measuring cup, a 7.5 liter Le Creuset Dutch oven, a twelve-inch sauté pan, a quart sauce pan (perfect for a single poached egg in the morning), the All-Clad saucier pan (my favorite pan), and finally a big Boos cutting board. (We were driving—obviously, this is an impractical list if flying!)
But David seems to be refining his guestly manners in a most elegant way, one that enriches the host’s kitchen and ensures that he has what he needs:
I’ve decided that next year, I’m going make up gift bags for my hosts, each containing a silicone spatula, a mixing bowl, a cake or tart pan, perhaps a rolling pin, and a sharp knife of some sort. It’ll be my way of being a good guest, and keep me from getting grumpy in the kitchen.
If David ever visits us, I’ll ask if he wouldn’t mind whipping up some croissants for breakfast and see what he says.
What we’re drinking…
On arriving at the Westport house, I’d asked Ann to pickup some Curaçao when she went to the store, as I was intent on making Mai Tais. She returned with a bottle of liquid bluer than the Grotto Azzura.
It was what the guy at Lee’s market gave her. A sickly sweet, orange flavored liqueur ($11), but it did make a good green mai tai.
It was the generous cousin Gloria-Jean, privvy to my curaçao confusion, who gifted the house with proper Curaçao, the dry liqueur created by the Pierre Ferrand company along with the guidance of cocktail historian David Wondrich.
A blend of three distillations, infused with the bitter Laraha oranges from the island that gives us this brandy-based elixir, as well as spices, Wondrich and the company claim that this is as close to the original 19th century spirit as one can find. It is indeed the best orange liqueur available, and at under $30, a manageable splurge.
It makes a fantastic margarita (Instagram live here):
2 ounces blanco tequila, reposado tequila, or mezcal (each spirit results in a differently nuanced cocktail)
1-1/2 ounce dry curacao
1 ounce lime juice
pinch of salt
Mix and serve over ice or up, in a proper margarita glass, lime slice for garnish. It’s a beautiful cocktail.
What we’re watching…
Annette. The bizarre musical starring Adam Driver and directed by Leos Carax, the French writer and director who made Holy Motors. After the first half hour of this, I began to fidget, googled its running time to see how long we were in this for (140-minutes), and 45 minutes in, I felt it a hopeless endeavor as there was zero story. But then it became strangely, hypnotically engaging, especially when the weird puppet-child arrives. I got caught up in its dream-world and gave in to this very weird pleasure.
More conventionally, Ann and I both recommend without hesitation or caveat, The Truffle Hunters, a beautiful documentary of 70- and 80-year-old men who hunt truffles in the hills of Piedmont, Italy, and where those truffles go. There is no narration, no guiding text to let you know who’s talking or where we are, only a fly-on-the-wall camera (the cinematography is original and excellent). We loved this.
And finally, we’ve abandoned ourselves to the madcap detective comedy, Only Murders in the Building, starring Steve Martin and Selena Gomez, but completely dominated by the hilarious Martin Short, who plays a washed up theater director. The three characters live in an exclusive building on Manhattan’s UWS and when a loathsome neighbor is found dead, the three join forces in sleuthing. An easy delight.
What we’re reading…
Ann’s recommendations first, as I tend to follow in her wake:
When I saw that Kevin Canty, one of my favorite writers and a pal who I’ve actually never met, was also reading Elizabeth Bowen, I wrote him to gush about Barbara Pym. He suggested I read The Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story by Glenway Wescott, a 1940 novella about an American ex pat in Paris, an itinerant Irish couple, and…well…a hawk. Loved every word.
Our neighbor and good friend Tripp Evans (recipient of the above ribs, actually) gifted me the complete Mapp and Lucia novels by E. F. Benson from the 1920s and I am so happy every time I enter English village society with these two and all the villagers.
Extra bonus: A Stranger in This World, stories by Kevin Canty and Grant Wood: A Life by R. Tripp Evans.
And I took Ann’s advice from the last newsletter and read the outstanding Mrs. March, an enormously assured, brilliant first novel by Virginia Feito, a native of Spain who writes in English about an UES Manhattan woman whose world comes undone when she learns that the main character of her husband’s new blockbuster novel, a whore so ugly, so downtrodden, no one will sleep with her, is based on her, Mrs. March. It is masterful in making a reprehensible character deeply compelling (she’s called Mrs. March even in childhood flashbacks).
I also read Ann’s new novel, the first draft of The Museum of Tears. Very excited by this. And talk about a productive pandemic! Ann wrote and published the YA novel Jude Banks, Superhero (read the NYTBR rave here). She wrote a memoir of her years as a flight attendant, Fly Girl, to be published next spring by W.W. Norton. And she completed the new adult novel, noted above. Her next book has to be titled Go, Girl.
Links we’re loving…
Dorothy Parker gets her final resting place, no more carting that urn around! (Good fact: Parker bequeathed her entire estate to Martin Luther King Jr.)
This is a fascinating story of the history of gas station food in the south and its connection to Black life and entrepreneurship. (By the amazingly named Amethyst Ganaway, in Eater.)
I loved this interactive piece from the NYTimes on NYC’s legendary literary hangouts.
Also from The Times, this quiz on how well you’d survive a bear encounter.
This is a lovely two paragraphs on Virginia Wolff’s writing room, a short story, in fact. (via The Guardian.)
What is the difference between Luxardo cherries and maraschino cherries? Alex Teeter explains.
And Ann found this gin and martini primer, which I’m grateful for (though it’s a bit of a stretch—I don’t like The Botonist and some of the categories are absurd, it’s a sound document on gin and the martini, which begins with Beefeater, the perfect gin for a martini). (Also from vinepair.com.)
Our dear friend Lee Jacobs was in Baton Rouge during Ida and three days later the storm tore thought the northeast, showing how powerful these storms are getting. Henri came through here just a week ago. Brace yourselves for more. And until then eat and drink well and cherish your kids and parents and friends.
Till next time, stay healthy!
NYC during Ida: Waterworld: