Newsletter #1

Welcome to my first newsletter. I’m strangely thrilled by the prospect…

Giving thanks for food…

We took Rhode Island’s and the CDC’s recommendation seriously and cancelled even our under-10-people, outdoor plans to celebrate America’s singularly unifying holiday. We were three this year, not thirty: myself, my wife, Ann, and her 16-year-old daughter Annabelle, and a 4 p.m. Zoom with all the family and friends who otherwise would have been here. As frustrating as these can be it was good to see people’s faces and one friend, chef-restaurateur Bruce Tillinghast, sported a bow tie for the occasion. How thoughtful to dress for the occasion.

A Thanksgiving deprived of family and friends was truly a time, indeed never more so, to give thanks for the blessings we have, especially as that deprivation is temporary. We remain healthy and safe and happily fed and our hearts go out to all those personally affected by Covid.

The smallest turkey we could find was a 14-pounder, so we have a lot of leftover turkey and I am determined to use every last scrap, as part of the Thanksgiving for the abundance we are lucky to have.

My personal faves are a turkey breast sandwich on white bread with head lettuce and mayo and one with mayo and cranberry (yesterday). Seriously, I love this simplest of sandwiches. Oh, and with a glass of milk. It’s perfect. (When I asked my wife Ann to put “head” lettuce on the shopping list, she thought, “Oh, interesting, I’ve never seen head lettuce,” and was surprised when I put iceberg lettuce in the cart. According to Smithsonian mag, it was originally called crisphead lettuce, and would arrive in rail cars from California under giant piles of ice, facts I learned while researching my book Grocery.)

We were very happy to tuck into hot open-faced turkey sandwiches with dressing and gravy for dinner last night, with plenty of gravy and dressing, and watched the hilarious Melissa McCarthy movie, Superintelligence. Such a pleasure. (NYTimes review.)

Of course, the turkey carcass went into the pot and into the oven for overnight turkey stock ( it’s still there actually—I’ll add the vegetables tomorrow). I’m thinking of making a turkey consommé—a stock so clear, I was taught at the Culinary Institute of America, that you can read the date on a dime at the bottom of a gallon. Certain lines never leave you. 

Here’s another one that never left. When I was cooking at The American Bounty restaurant at the school, the chef, Dan Turgeon, put a soup sampler on the menu, which included a turkey consommé. “I will never go back to chicken consommé again,” he said with such conviction that it seemed like one of those rules sent down from on high and never to be questioned. Turkey consommé was that good.

Ann will be making Turkey Tetrazzini today. This dish was for me one of those awful lunches from the school cafeteria. It wasn’t till I had a homemade version as an adult that I realized how delicious it could be.

If there’s an an easier or more satisfying turkey leftover dish I haven’t had it. Here’s how it’s done: make a béchamel sauce (cook 4 T butter with 6 tablespoons flour, whisk in 4 cups milk and simmer gently for 15 minutes), add aromatic vegetables—diced carrot, onion, celery—fresh herbs (thyme is best) and leftover chopped turkey turkey. Toss with pasta, and bake topped with panko bread crumbs till piping hot. If you’re a mushroom fan, as Ann is, add sauteed mushrooms to the vegetable mix. This amount of béchamel with a pound of dried pasta should feed four, with leftovers.

Ann will use Giada’s chicken version, which she swears by—but if you read it, you’ll see that it’s pretty much exactly hers is. And the best Thankgiving is simply a béchamel made with Turkey stock (if your in culinary school, you’d call it a turkey velouté).

Remember, too, that you can put that same béchamel-vegetable-turkey mixture in a pie crust and you have turkey pot pie (add diced potato and peas)! I’ll do both and freeze the pot pie for the week after next so we don’t get sick of the turkey.

Or, and I just thought of this, you could chill the béchamel-vegetable-turkey mixture and when it’s stiff with cold, shape it into small balls, bread them—flour, egg wash, bread crumbs—and deep fry them! Turkey croquettes.

I’d love to hear unusual ways you put the leftovers to work. And if anyone can figure out a dessert that uses turkey, don’t hesitate to tell us; you’ve got some serious culinary imagination.

One last afternoon on the beach…

Our favorite beach is near enough to drive to for the afternoon, and so one week ago today, with temps in the low sixties, we pulled out the beach chairs and blanket, loaded a bag with magazines and books and a bottle of wine and headed off to Elephant Rock. I think it’s impossible to feel stress on a beach. 

When it began to get dark, we drove to one of our favorite restaurants in Providence, Persimmon. In a uniformly excellent meal at an outdoor table, chef-owner Champe Spiedel sent out a gift from the kitchen, his tuna tartare, each bite enlivened by tiny dots of citrus that would explode like pop rocks when you chewed: finger limes.

I’d first heard about this Australian citrus 15 years ago working with Grant Achatz, who’d discovered them on the internet and, as they were little known in the U.S. at the time, he bent over backwards to acquire some. Fifteen years later, they’re available on Amazon. And damn, they’re good.

A cocktail …

I was sticking to the flinty martini at Persimmon.

But Ann went outside the norm for a truly autumnal cocktail GM Kevin O’Connor put on the menu, a cocktail I hadn’t heard of, called a Penicillin. With it’s honey-ginger-lemon-whiskey composition it was a perfect cocktail for a chilly fall evening. I daresay it would even be excellent served hot. Saveur writes about it here. A blend of blended and single malt scotches, apparently created in 2005 by Steve Ross, who has created a number of now standard cocktails. Read an interview with him here on liquor dot com.

This was a treat and something we’re not likely to make at home as no one here drinks blended scotch, only the peaty whiskys of Islay (why don’t the Scots use an E?). Kevin keeps the smokey flavors out because he said many guests don’t like peaty whiskies. Either way, it’s a terrific cocktail. For the syrup, simmer about 3 inches of grated ginger in a half cup each of honey and water for a few minutes, allow to cool and strain. Use leftovers for a modified Bee’s Knees (see my instagram video Friday Cocktail Hour series of that one here).

Persimmon’s Penicillin

2 ounces scotch

1 ounce lemon juice

3/4 ounce honey-ginger syrup

Lemon wheel

Combine all the ingredients but the lemon wheel in a mixing glass. Add ice and stir till chilled, 10 to 15 seconds. Strain over ice in a rocks glass and garnish with the lemon wheel. 

Apéro Hour…

On another cocktail note, a few weeks back I did a live instagram with my friend, the chef and writer David Lebovitz, discussing the perfect Manhattan on his excellent series called the Apéro Hour. A “perfect” cocktail denotes a drink in which both dry and sweet vermouths are used and we had great fun discussing vermouths and also talking about chefs we’ve worked with. What a pleasure to feel connected, we in Rhode Island, David in Paris during Covid.

What we’re reading…

I’m reading Inside Story, Martin Amis’s novel about his life that is in fact a meshing of straightforward memoir and autofiction. Very good, in short doses, which the author himself recommends.

Ann is reading We Keep the Dead Close. She loves a good mystery, preferably British and at least written fifty or more years ago. This one, by Becky Cooper, is a real, unsolved 1969 murder at Harvard. Ann’s admiring the meticulous researched and especially likes seeing the academic pettiness and misogyny exposed here. 

And what we’ve been watching…

Listen To Me Marlon,” a documentary about Marlon Brando, a bit on the odd side using reams of self-recorded tapes the actor made, but it's a well-rounded and full portrait of one of the great, and complicated, American actors.

Belushi,” the documentary, is compulsively watchable and is especially good at capturing the full personality of this comic genius, especially how physical his comedy was. 

(I actually had a brush with his greatness in the summer of 1979 or thereabouts in the locker room of a gym I used in Cleveland. I turned from my locker and there he sat next to me in racquetball attire. I’m sure I said something clever like “You’re John Belushi.” I knew that the Blues Brothers were in town for a concert. He said, “You coming to our show?” With even less cleverness I responded, “No.” He grunted. His eyes were blood red.)

I made the mistake of watching the entirety of The Queen’s Gambit (Netflix) by myself in NYC, figuring that, given Ann’s tepid initial interest, we might never get around to it. And I love chess and chess stories. But Ann started watching after all, without me, and now she’s hooked and I’m hooked again. Anya Tayor-Joy’s spectrumy, flat demeanor is compelling and I love the way her hands move to capture a piece.

Yesterday’s double feature also included the excellent film Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (also Netflix). I’d listened to the book by chance on Audible this summer (great reading by the author) and can highly recommend both.

Somebody tell a joke…

A priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a bar. The rabbit says, “I might just be a typo.” I just heard that one, and as my late friend Rusty King believed it our moral obligation to remember jokes, I repeat it here. Along with this clever variation:  A priest, a minister and a rabbi walk into a bar. The rabbit says, “I might just be Type-O.”

Links we’re loving…

The power of smell, the most visceral of our senses, seems to be on people’s minds, perhaps because Covid can take it away, perhaps because everywhere you go smells like you’re own breath. Arwa Mahdawi considers the power of smell in The Guardian.

What smell would you have in your museum of smells? Don’t miss the touching first one from the teenager in Scotland.

How Bill Buford cooks his Thanksgiving dinner as if he were still in France—fascinating details such as the French don’t like cinnamon. I can highly recommend his book Dirt, about working in the kitchens of Lyon.

And finally, if you’re a John Prine fan, this is a fabulous short concert (who’s living room is this?). Thanks to Kay Gardner of Modern Day Knitting for the link:

See you in a couple weeks!

Michael

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