Sunflowers, weekday meals, a great but uncommon cocktail, books, movies, links...
I began this newsletter writing about chefs but it wasn’t quite clicking. I don’t really know why but think I might have been given a clue when an email landed in my box yesterday. It was from a friend in England, Elizabeth Irvine:
I was feeling heartsore after listening to a lot of BBC podcasts about Ukraine. Important but tough-going. So, I listened to your recent interview on the TC podcast for a dose of happy-making writerly food chat. Loved it.
Talking of food and Ukraine …. desperate to try and understand and know a bit more about what’s going on and where, I bought a Ukrainian cookbook, Olia Hercules’s ‘Summer Kitchens’ (cookbooks often the best source of knowledge I think) and have been happily (and heartsorely) dipping in. So, here’s a cabbage and cucumber salad (for a cabbage fan), and also a puffed omelette and a picture of just how stunning a place Ukraine is.
Love to you and Ann,
I wanted to include all of this because my heart is sore as well from all the images of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the killing and destruction, the million children who have had to flee their homes—it just felt good to hear from yet another person who is feeling it as well. And to know what she was doing about it: studying the food of the region. Bless you, Elizabeth. And yes, the food of a place tells us so much about that place. And food is a great comfort as well.
I wanted to promote the book itself, and really, anything pro-Ukraine. So thank you Elizabeth Irvine for the email and the cookbook recommendation.
… are of course the national flower of Ukraine. When they’re in season, they are one of our favorite flowers to have on the table, on the sill, by the bedside. Can’t have too many.
And one final sunflower. The below is from Gabriel Kreuther: The Spirit of Alsace, which I co-wrote with him (photography by Evan Sung). It is of a fennel panna cotta, with cockles, celery leaves, and caviar inspired by the sunflowers of his homeland in eastern France.
And I wanted to send great appreciation out to Jose Andres, Nate Mook, and the staff of World Central Kitchen, which is serving 150,000 meals a day in six countries bordering Ukraine. Of his staff Andres says, “These men, these women, they’re fighting the war, making sure everybody is fed.”
Here’s a link to donate to Andres’s enormously important and effective WCK.
What we’ve been cooking…
Pork lettuce wraps for one. What I love about this dish is the convenience. Earlier in the week, entertaining a larger group than usual (Annabelle’s pals), Ann suggested we do pulled pork, a crowd-pleaser and thrifty. After braising the plain bone-in pork shoulder for four hours, but before adding the vinegar-based sauce and shredding the meat, I took off a full meal’s worth of pork and refrigerated it.
Several days later, I simply heated the pork, added a char siu sauce, and it became the base for wraps, char siu pork in lettuce, with julienned carrot, radish, and sliced scallion. A meal that came together in 30 minutes.
For me, though, the most interesting thing I cooked during the past couple weeks was a poached egg. And it was an accident. I opened a new carton, and cracked the egg on the counter, but its shell was uncommonly thin and the egg dropped right out of its shell.
I didn’t even think. With my left hand, I slid the egg off the counter into my right hand and dropped the egg in the poaching water. It came out beautifully, with no flyaway whites.
Of course, it leaves a mess on the counter, and people on Twitter were squeamish about bacteria. So for the third egg, I cracked it onto my breakfast plate, swept the egg into the water, rinsed the plate and put it in the rack. By the time the egg was done, the plate was dry and ready for its normal duties. The egg was perfect.
I created a perforated spoon big enough to hold a large egg to drain off the fly away whites, but this method is even easier.
What we’re drinking…
Clover Clubs! I made one years ago—gin, lemon, raspberry syrup, egg white. I couldn’t believe how delicious it was and still am not sure why it’s not more common. Maybe the pink color and frothy top keeps people (dudes) away.
Not so at the bar called Clover Club, opened in 2008 by Julie Reiner in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood. I’d been wanting to meet the cocktail expert, David Wondrich, and he suggested this bar near where he lives. I was running late and texted him to order me his favorite cocktail. He chose the bar’s signature drink, above. A beautifully nuanced cocktail.
Highly recommended if you see it on the cocktail menu. And it was a pleasure to meet Mr. Wondrich, author of a number of books including the most recent, Oxford Companion to Spirits and Cocktails, a fabulous encyclopedic reference and a 10-year labor of love for Wondrich and fellow authors.
I forgot to mention in the last newsletter, which featured La Paz, Mexico. A tip from a chef working in Cabos said Ann and I must try to stop into La Miserable Mezcaleria. And I’m glad we did.
The above Mezcal, by Mezcaloteca with a mix of two agave plants (espadin and jabalí) was by far some of the best mezcal I’ve tasted. Thirteen American dollars (270 pesos) will buy you a two ounce pour of this very special nectar.
What we’re reading…
I’m usually five books behind Ann and so just finished Tessa Hadley’s outstanding new novel, Free Love, which I wrote about in the last newsletter. And I’m about halfway through a delightful YA novel, Husky, by Justin Sayre, sent to my by my editor at Penguin, about a painfully self-conscious boy, early teens, chubby, who loves opera. When I was a boy, I too had to shop in the husky section.
Ann has her own recommendations, and they’re for more than just books, so I’ll let her take it away:
Ann’s Favorites This Week:
My beloved gifted me Oh William! by Elizabeth Strout and what a gift it was! Love, love, love this book. [Read Jenny Egan’s review of this sequel to Strout’s 2016 novel My Name IsLucy Barton, which is also great.]
And lucky me got an early copy of Bill Roorbach’s Lucky Turtle. Pre order this one! It’s fabulous.
A few years ago as I was walking down Bleecker Street, a window display in Lingua Franca stopped me. A lover of all things crafty, I was gobsmacked by the hundreds of needlework pieces of Donald Trump quotes (my favorite: “I am a very stable genius”). This exhibit was the brainchild of Diana Weymar, who has now turned her needles on the Russian invasion of Ukraine:
Her website, Tiny Pricks Project, is here.
I’m also hooked on the podcast The Last Bohemians, which describes itself as a portrait profiling female firebrands and debonaire disruptors. I especially liked Pamela Des Barres and Judy Collins. (Article from the Independent here.)
What we’ve been watching…
Straight off the bat, I have to recommend Lunana: A Yak In the Classroom, from Bhutan, a speck of a country in the Himalayas between India and China. A young man in the thriving capital of Thimphu dreams of traveling to Australia to become a rock star, but must fulfill an obligation to teach during spring and summer in the most remote classroom on the planet, a school reachable only via days-long hike up into the mountains.
Ann watched CODA months ago. CODA (childred of deaf adults) is about the daughter of deaf parents and one deaf sibling in Maine who wants to pursue a pursue a college education on a singing scholarship (and not join the family fishing business), but I fell asleep after five minutes.
I finally got around to watching it again. Yes, it is 100% predictable—but it’s a terrific movie, and the deaf actor, Troy Kotsur, who won a SAG award for his performance as the dad, could deservedly take home an Oscar for best supporting. It would be the second time a deaf actor won an Oscar, the first of which went to his CODA co-star Marlee Matlin, 35 years ago, for Children of a Lesser God. Matlin is fabulous here; so is Eugenio Derbez, as the singing teacher Bernardo—all the performances were excellent.
I watched King Richard, about the Serena-Venus dad story because I love their story and I love watching tennis and have marveled at these sisters’ astonishing talents. Ann was less sanguine. But Will Smith, its star, is up for an Oscar, so Ann wanted to see it. I was happy to watch it again. Smith’s is a terrific portrayal of a complicated, not altogether likable but always admirable, father.
All three of these movies are completely predictable from a story standpoint. And we even know how King Richard ends. So why are they so compelling? My writing mentor Reynolds Price used to say, and I loved it when he did, he used to say in his god-like baritone: “No one wants to hear a story they haven’t already heard before.” Something to think about if you’re a story-teller.
And finally, we saw Music Man, on Broadway with Hugh Jackman. Ann wouldn’t have splurged on tix but for her daughter’s and cousin’s hugely enthusiastic response to it. Also, she couldn’t believe I had never seen the show or the movie. It received a negative review in The Times, but it’s a feel-good musical we happily recommend.
Links we’re liking…
Emily Pritchett’s pandemic Venn diagrams in The Guradian made me laugh.
Watch this amazing video of hummingbirds feeding, from Instagram.
Eimear O’Callaghan was a teenager in 1972 in Belfast during the Troubles. “On New Year’s Day 50 years ago, I settled into a corner of my tiny west Belfast bedroom, clutching my precious new Collins diary, and began to write.” She rediscovered this journal and has published it as Belfast Days: A Teenaged Diary.
Ann and I were lucky to snag a table at one of the hottest (and smallest) restaurants in NYC, Patricia Howard’s and Ed Szymanski’s Dame, the other night, a place renowned for its fish and chips but excelling at everything on its menu (the squid and scallions on skewers! the oysters with chartreuse Hollandaise!) But I was fascinated to hear how they decided to go dark on the busiest night of the week. They aren’t open weekends, and it makes so much sense, I hope they don’t start a trend. (via Eater.)
Last, I was sorry to read in The New York Times yesterday that Sally Schmitt has died. Sally Schmitt was the original French Laundry chef. She opened the restaurant with her husband, Don, in 1978, and, like the early days of Chez Panisse, had a single prix fixe menu and helped to solidify the Napa Valley as a food and wine destination. She and Don sold the restaurant to Thomas Keller in 1994.
And finally …
That Ukrainian woman: “What the fuck are you doing on our land with all these guns?” God bless her. See you in a couple weeks!
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