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05 MAY, 2015

The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning: The Extraordinary Edible Record of Two Women Explorers’ Journey to the End of the World

By:

“In Antarctica, everything is stripped down… It is only who you are and what you do that counts.”

“Housekeeping, the art of the infinite, is no game for amateurs,” Ursula K. Le Guin wrote in 1982 in a fictional piece full of truths, a New Yorker short story about an all-female crew of polar explorers titled “Sur: A Summary Report of the Yelcho Expedition to the Antarctic,” later included in the short story collection The Unreal and the Real.

The pioneering polar explorer Ernest Shackleton would’ve been well-advised to heed Le Guin’s admonition. In 1914, as he was readying to embark upon his heroic Antarctic expedition, he posted the following recruitment ad in the wanted section of a London newspaper:

MEN WANTED for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.

Among the responses was one from a young woman named Peggy Pergrine, writing on behalf of a female trio:

We ‘three spotty girls’… beg for you take us with you on your expedition to the South Pole. We are … willing to undergo any hardships that you yourselves undergo. If our feminine garb is inconvenient, we should just love to don masculine attire… We do not see why men should have all the glory … especially when there are women just as brave and capable.

Shackleton replied dryly:

There are no vacancies for the opposite sex on the expedition.

Shackleton expedition photographer Frank Hurley working under the bows of the Endurance, 1915. Before abandoning the ship, Shackleton and Hurley chose 120 glass plates to keep, including this rare color one. They smashed 400 plates; Shackleton feared Hurley would endanger himself by even thinking of returning for them.

Whether the great explorer and his crew survived by merit or miracle remains unknown, but survive they did — however narrowly — not without attention to cuisine. (A year later, Captain Robert Falcon Scott and his crew, who gave us the most enchanting photographic record of early polar exploration, weren’t so lucky — the entire crew perished in the grip of starvation and extreme cold.)

Menu prepared by Frank Hurley for Midwinter Day dinner, June 22, 1912

Courtesy Mitchell Library State Library of New South Wales

Shackleton’s return from Antarctica was the catalyst for a new era of polar exploration — over the course of the century since his voyage, countless expeditions have taken to this 90-percent glaciated island of mystery and magic, which occupies a tenth of our planet and holds most of the world’s fresh water but has remained unknown for most of human history. In the mere century that humans have inhabited the continent, several nations — including Russia, Chile, China, Uruguay, Poland, and Argentina — have set up research stations, which quickly sprouted the most prolific byproduct of our civilization: human mess.

Project Antarctica, VIEW Foundation pilot cleanup at the Polish research station, Carol Devine in center, 1995

In June of 1994, one woman was tasked with the very endeavor Shackleton had so bluntly denied young Peggy Pergrine exactly eight decades earlier: Humanitarian Carol Devine received a handwritten letter from the Polish Academy of Sciences, inviting her to spearhead what would become Project Antarctica — the world’s first major collaborative environmental initiative to clean up the debris that had accumulated since researchers first set foot on this icy wonderland.

It was a singular job that required the marriage of science and housekeeping, and it was — as Le Guin had observed a decade earlier — no game for amateurs.

Photograph by Jean-Baptiste Charcot from the first French expedition to the Antarctic, 1903–1905

As the expedition leader, Devine set out to recruit volunteers — in an era, it should be noted for perspective, when efforts of this sort were coordinated via fax and derailed by such disasters as blowing a slide projector. In addition to a program manager, an Antarctic veteran, and a biologist, she hired Wendy Trusler — a visual artist and chef renowned for cooking at tree-planting camps throughout Northern Canada.

So began a most unusual and vitalizing collaboration between the two women, which would become, twenty years later, The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning: A Polar Journey (public library) — an extraordinary tome blending the enchantment of Thoreau-like journaling (“A brilliant morning. Sun turns berg in bay into gold.”), the fascination of scientific observation and philosophical reflection (“[The Chilean Commandante] said you can’t write about something of which you are not a part. I disagreed, and agreed.”), and the pure delight of delicious, immensely inventive recipes for meals cooked with minimal ingredients and maximal imagination (“sea cabbage salad made with laminaria [fresh kelp]”).

Carol Devine (right) and Wendy Trusler, Bellingshausen, 1995

Photograph by Lena Nikolaeva

Devine writes in the introduction:

How do you start to clean up some 28 years worth of accumulated rubbish and encourage long-term commitment to cleanup?

[…]

This book is an invitation to experience our and others’ passions, doubts, victories, disasters, concerns, joys, heartbreaks, discoveries, recipes, warnings and encouragement for crossing stormy passages and being (or at least trying to be) good citizens of the world. It’s a call for earth stewardship. Why should future generations have to clean up our collective mess and inherit a planet depleted of biodiversity and resources?

Food is life, food is culture. It shaped old expeditions and shaped ours, and we’re going to use it to tell you this story.

And indeed Trusler’s recipes, written with great warmth and subtle humor, offer a living record of this singular experience.

Fisherman's Fish

Photograph by Sandy Nicholson

No dishes. No forks, You eat Fisherman’s Fish with your hands using your fingers to pull the tender flesh away from the bone. I make it at home using the whitefishes our local fishmonger brings in. Freshly caught bass, trout, pickerel or perch would be even more delectable.

2 whole fish about 1 pound each (whitefish, cleaned, with the skin on) // ¼ cup all-purpose flour // coarse salt // vegetable oil

Cut the fish into ½- to ¼-inch steaks and pat dry. Put the flour on a shallow plate and sprinkle with salt — a few pinches should do. Add enough oil to a large skillet to cover the bottom and place it over medium-high heat.

Dredge the fish steaks in flour on all sides and place them in the pan when the oil is hot, but not smoking. Cook until the fish is golden brown underneath, then turn the steaks and fry the other side until crisply. This should take about two minutes per side.

Serve straight from the pan with wedges of lemon, apples and pears. Have plenty of sweet lemony tea made (vodka shots if it is a special occasion) and be prepared for people to drop by once word gets out.

Makes a meal for six; more if you are serving it as a snack or starter.

The recipes pay homage to the national cuisines of the various research stations — Ukrainian cabbage rolls, Great Wall dumplings, spiced Russian tea. Tucked into them is also a taste of the changing legal and moral conventions surrounding our relationship with nature. Trusler offers a pause-giving appendix to the Fisherman’s Fish recipe:

We strongly encourage using sustainable seafood for this recipe. The Madrid Protocol on Environmental Protection, signed in 1991 and entered into force in 1998, prohibits disrupting wildlife. While the kind of small-scale fishing a few of us did was not yet a breach in 1996, we are aware it was a grey zone and in hindsight are uncomfortable.

Rosemary Maple Borscht

Photograph by Sandy Nicholson

Vladimir the Russian cook made his borscht using a meat stock. My version kept the vegetarian volunteers in camp happy and even got the thumbs up from the Russians. To make vegan Rosemary Maple Borscht just substitute olive oil for butter and hold back on the dollop of crème fraiche or sour cream.

2 pounds beets (around 5 medium) // 3 medium potatoes // 2 tablespoons butter // olive oil // 2 onions // 2 cloves of garlic // 1 celery stalk // 2 large carrots // 1 small cabbage(about 5 cups chopped) // 1 tablespoon caraway seeds // 8 cups water // 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar // 3 tablespoons maple syrup // 1 can crushed tomatoes (28 ounces) // 1 tablespoons sea salt // pepper // fresh rosemary

Peel and cube the beets and potatoes and put them aside. Heat the butter in a large pot set over medium heat and add the beets and potatoes, tossing to coat them with butter. Reduce the heat and sauté, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon and being careful not to bruise or break the cubes. After about 5 minutes add enough water to cover the vegetables and gently simmer until tender, around 10 minutes.

While the beets and potatoes are cooking, mince the garlic and onions and chop the remaining vegetables. Put the caraway seeds into a large Dutch oven or stock pot and toast them over low heat, pushing them around the pan from time to tie so they don’t burn. When you begin to smell the aroma of the caraway add enough olive oil to generously coat the bottom of the pot. Stir in the onions, garlic and celery, sprinkle with salt and cook over medium heat until the vegetables are soft and translucent. Next mix in the carrots and cabbage and sauté for about 5 minutes before adding the remaining water. Bring briefly to a boil and reduce the heat before making the final additions.

Add the beets and potatoes in their cooking liquid, along with the vinegar, maple syrup, crushed tomatoes and a large sprig of fresh rosemary. Cover and simmer for at least 40 minutes to bring the flavors together. Season to taste and make adjustments to the thickness of the soup by adding water as you see fit. Garnish with rosemary and a dollop of crème fraiche or sour cream and sere with freshly baked bread.

Makes enough for ten to twelve people.

Cooking for small teams of volunteers on King George Island meant I had to scale back my recipes from my bush cook days, but only so far. I love that I can get a few meals from this soup. It keeps for five days and freezes well even if you aren’t in Antarctica.

All-In Pizza

Photograph by Sandy Nicholson

Pizza is a personal thing, so it’s often best to let people make their own. When I recognized the ice-breaking potential for this hands-on meal, I stated to serve it the first night of each camp.

I put out a stack of partially baked pizza crusts with a variety of toppings and let the volunteers and dinner guests do the rest. Make-your-own pizza night encourages creativity, shapes conversation (even when there is little) and is a fabulous way to turn around leftovers.

Pizza Bases

1 batch Honey Oatmeal Bread dough (page 81) made through the first rising // Cornmeal for the pan

When the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface, punch it down and cut it into four equal pieces. Knead each piece a few turns, roll them into uniform balls, and set aside to rest, covered, for about 5 minutes while you grease your baking sheets and preheat your oven to 350° F.

To make pizza crusts that are the same shape and size, roll out a ball of dough into a 14×14 inch square about 1/4-inch thick. Cut four rounds from the dough using a 7-inch pot lid or a bread and butter plate as a template. Continue with the remaining dough. Sprinkle the prepared baking sheets with cornmeal. Transfer the rounds to the baking sheets.

Bake until the bases begin to brown slightly around the edges, 8–10 minutes. Turn out onto racks immediately to cool and repeat with the rest of the dough as baking sheets become available.

If you prefer the look of a more free-form pizza, divide your dough into sixteen pieces and shape each of them into a ball. Proceed with a rolling pin or use your hands to press and pull one of the balls of dough into a pleasing shape. Continue until you have formed and baked all of your pizza crusts.

If you are going to use your bases later that day, they can sit out. If not, airtight container or wrap them in plastic and freeze them until ready to use.

Makes bases for sixteen pizzas.

Paging through the journals of Shackleton and other pioneering explorers, Devine gasps at how they capture “the beauty of our shared humanity, records of the weather and heart, humor and hardship, the shifting inside and outside world, the value of knowledge transfer and a hearty stew” — all things that her own cookbook-cum-travelogue offers in ample portions.

Russian scientist Sasha Diesel serving tea in the watchman's room, Bellingshausen, 1996. 'Sasha Diesel made the best tea,' Trusler writes. 'He spoke less english than I did Russian so we'd default to Spanish, which was equally dubious. Mostly we'd sit in companionable silence making things.'

Photograph by Wendy Trusler

For much of the expedition, Devine and Trusler were the only women amid troves of male researchers — in one emblematic extreme, on the Russian station, they were surrounded by five Sashas and four Vladimirs. This often made for tragicomic encounters bespeaking at once how far we’ve come since Shackleton’s dismissal of the female trio and how far we have yet to go. Devine recounts one such experience on a Russian scientific ship in December of 1995:

Two ship staff were at a table beside us and three others at another, dining with the captain and first mate. We were shocked when the man selling red roses pushed two onto us. I looked over at Tomas’s table and he smiled. Tomas — the macho Polish-Argentinian penguin specialist. Who sent us the flowers? Adorable and ridiculous at the same time. Then Andy walked over to us and said, “Do you ladies want us to chaperone you home?” Was he serious? Is it still 1900?

Indeed, Devine points to the long tradition of pioneering women who had ventured to Antarctica since 1900 — botanist Jeanne Baret, who became the first woman to work in the region’s Falkland Islands in 1766, disguised as a man; Caroline Mikkelsen, a Norwegian whaler’s wife, the first woman to set foot on the actual continent in 1935; marine biologist Maria Klenova, the first Russian woman in Antarctica, who helped map the first Soviet Antarctic atlas in 1956 — the year Admiral George Dufek, the first commanding officer of the U.S. Operation Deep Freeze, declared that women would join the U.S. Antarctic program “over [his] dead body”; geochemist Lois Jones, who led the first all-female scientific team to the continent in 1969; retired nurse Barbara Hillary, who became the first African American woman to reach both poles — the North Pole at the age of 75 and the South Pole at 79.

Jackie Ronne, the first female working member of a U.S. expedition, and Sig Gutenko wrapping pemmican, 1947

Courtesy of Karen Ronne Tupek

Devine considers women’s evolving role in polar research, however glacial the pace of that evolution:

Women are respected scientists, artists, activists, explorers, support staff and more. Today they represent one-third of staff at Antarctic bases, lead and participate in game-changing research, such as Susan Solomon and team who helped identify the cause of the ozone hole. Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were depleting the ozone layer protecting life from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet light. Scientists and politicians acted following the discovery: The Montreal Protocol (1987) was a landmark environmental treaty banning CFCs.

Devine and Trusler soon began to observe the questionable behaviors of the male scientists with an anthropologist’s detached fascination rather than with personal indignation. Devine writes in another journal entry:

Late at night: Sergey told Lena that the guys told Maxim and Yuri that they had to “stay away from our girls.” They had noticed them flirting with us. Group dynamics.

And yet, for all the limitations of extreme weather, paltry supplies, and dated gender norms, Devine and Trusler approached the expedition with an air of expansive possibility — something Trusler captures beautifully in a journal entry shortly after they cast off:

I have this feeling, a strange sense of something unfolding, opening in front of me.

Photograph by Sandy Nicholson

In an entry from the following day, Devine marvels at the gift of the experience:

It is a privilege to live here, get insight into the scientists’ and staff’s Antarctic life and routines.

In one particularly wonderful entry — wonderful for its fusion of science and humanity, for embodying how we think with animals, for its sheer exuberance of being-in-the-worldness — Devine writes:

The seal colony. They stared at us at first but carried on as if we were irrelevant. Scratching their “arms” with their cur-covered “hands.” Two seals were hugging each other. one put its arm over the other’s back and made like a kiss. Then some seals scrapped — males with teeth-marks in their skin, chopped-up fur. We are all seals perhaps.

We moved from the seal colony to a hut of the biologists. Another exquisite experience. The shack was a wagon-like trailer now held not on rocks, but whalebones! It was a shabby hut with green oil paint chipping off in big chunks — sundried cracks all over. Inside were two beds.

Nature mirrors nature. A rock sitting high on another rock looked like an elephant seal.

This is a lesson on minimalism. Every hut is a treasure, is useful. Recycled.

There is also an invigorating geopolitical peacemaking undertone to the project. In one of several wonderful essays accompanying the recipes and journal entires, Devine reflects on the Antarctic Treaty of 1959, which declared the continent “a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science” and was signed by 49 countries by 2012. Remarking what “a rare achievement in a world beset by conflict” it is, she echoes Einstein on the common language of science and marvels:

I love that science is an Antarctic currency and tool of diplomacy.

In another essay, exploring where the garbage collected by the Antarctic cleanup volunteers goes, she examines our ambivalent attitudes toward earth-stewardship:

Maybe there is no morally superior place for garbage.

[…]

I had no idea exactly what we would be doing … but only that we were part of some kind of greater movement. All people who came on our project were willing to work but a few still thought nature was there for them. I had a volunteer from New York in the pilot cleanup at the Polish station the year before who wrote on her feedback form: “Not enough penguins.”

But perhaps most powerful of all is the almost allegorical quality of the project — the way it distills the human experience to its absolute essence, which Devine captures elegantly in the book’s postscript, written nearly twenty years after the expedition:

In Antarctica, everything is stripped down. You have what you have and even less than that materially. It is only who you are and what you do that counts.

Complement The Antarctic Book of Cooking and Cleaning, unsynthesizably dimensional and deeply gratifying in its totality, with Rachel Sussman’s photographic journey in Shackleton’s footsteps and this lovely illustrated chronicle of his famous expedition, then treat yourself to more unusual cross-disciplinary cookbooks: The Modern Art Cookbook, The Alice in Wonderland Cookbook, The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook, The Futurist Cookbook, and Found Meals of the Lost Generation.

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11 FEBRUARY, 2015

Joan Didion’s Favorite Recipes

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Chicken hash for Patti Smith, parsley salad for forty guests, and other edible fragments of a life that feminized the literary myth.

I have a voracious appetite for unusual cookbooks, particularly ones at the intersection of cuisine and literature — from vintage treasures like The Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook and Found Meals of the Lost Generation to loving homages like The Alice in Wonderland Cookbook and those real recipes from Roald Dahl’s children’s books to creative twists like Dinah Fried’s magnificent photographs of meals from famous fiction. How irresistible, then, to devour the recipes and menus that Joan Didion, one of the greatest writers of our time, holds most dear. “Part of Didion’s innovation was to feminize the literary myth,” Nathan Heller wrote in his beautiful essay on the writer’s living legacy — and her relationship with cuisine was an epicenter of that revolution.

As a supporter of the Didion documentary, I was treated to a copy of the author’s personal cookbook — a florilegium of sorts, assembling handwritten recipes, culinary clippings from various magazines and books, and menus of meals she served while entertaining at her home, to guests like Patti Smith (chicken hash with roasted yellow peppers and baguettes) and Richard Roth (baked ham with mustard and Alice Waters’s coleslaw).

Tucked into the recipes and menus are subtle clues to Didion’s life and social circle — sometimes amusing (parsley salad for 35 to 40?), sometimes poignant (fewer and fewer guests listed on the menus as the years roll by), always deeply human (cross-outs, inconsistent punctuation).

Recipes, by their very nature, are also strangely reflective of Didion’s stylistic signature as a writer — a directness at once unembellished and undry.

Here are a few favorites.

BORSCHT
(for 6)

2 lbs lean stew beef.

brown + put in stewpot w/ 1 c bouillon, 2 qt water, clove, Worcestershire, Tabasco, garlic, 1 chopped onion.

Simmer 1 hr.

Add:

4.5 peeled + grated beets,
1 cut-up potato (large)
3/4 head shredded cabbage.
Thyme.
Juice a couple of beets. (Brown Sugar)
Dill weed.
Simmer another hour.
Serve with bowl of sour cream.

ARTICHOKES AU GRATIN
(Serves 8)

2 (9 oz.) pkgs. frozen artichoke hearts
1 T. lemon juice
1/4 cup butter
dash white pepper
1 t. onion salt
1/2 t. prepared mustard
3/4 t. salt
1/3 cup flour
1/2 cup reserved artichoke liquid
1 1/2 cups hot milk
1 egg slightly beaten
1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese
2 T. dry bread crumbs
Paprika

Heat oven to 450 F.
Cook artichokes according to pkg. directions adding lemon juice to water. Drain, reserving 1/2cup liquid. Place artichokes in a single layer in a 9-inch shallow casserole.

Sauce: melt butter, add spices and flower, stir until smooth. Gradually add artichoke liquid and milk. Cook, stirring, until thick. Remove from heat, add egg and half of cheese. Blend. Pour over artichokes. Sprinkle with remaining cheese, bread crumbs and paprika.

Bake for 15 minutes.

RISOTTO

Sauté 1 onion, chopped, in 2 T olive oil, until soft.

Add 1 c rice, stir to coat, add 1/3 c white wine, let evaporate — add, bit by bit, 5 cups broth (1 can beef broth plus water to 5c).

DEVILED CRAB

For 1 pound of crabmeat:

Melt 4 T butter, sauté 1/4 tp 1/2 cup chopped celery and 3 chopped scallions. Stir in 1/2 t dry mustard, 1 T flour, cayenne and salt. Add 1 container heavy cream, thicken a bit, stir in crabmeat.

Pour into baking dish, finish with dried bread crumbs, Parmesan, and paprika. In oven 15 minutes, finish under broiler until brown.

PESTO

For a pound of pasta,

a cup and a half (about one ounce) of basil leaves, loosely packed
a handful of parsley leaves
1/8 ¼ cup pine nuts
several garlic cloves
a teaspoon of red pepper flakes
a quarter ½ cup olive oil

Blend together, gradually adding oil and then mixing in pepper flakes.

VODKA SAUCE
(for pound of pasta)

1 stick butter, 1 t red pepper flakes, 1 c vodka, 1 8-oz can tomato sauce, 1 tomato, 1 c heavy cream

CRÈME CARAMEL
(For 12)

  1. Melt 1 cup sugar in 1/2 cup water in saucepan + cook until golden. Line 12 cups with this caramelized sugar + let it set.
  2. Scald 4 cups milk with long piece of vanilla bean. Meanwhile, beat together 6 eggs, 4 additional egg yolks, and 1 cup sugar.
  3. Remove vanilla bean + trickle hot milk into egg mixture, whisking constantly. Pour this mixture with care over caramel in cups.
  4. Place cups in pan of hot water + into 350° oven for 20-25 min, until point of knife comes out of center clean. (water must not boil.) Chill + unmold.

SHORTCAKE

2 1/2 cups Bisquick
3 T sugar
3 T melted butter
1/2 cup milk

Knead 8-10 times —
Roll 1/2 in thick — cut — ungreased pan — 10 min at 425°.

PARSLEY SALAD
(35–40)

8 bunches Italian parsley
Blend 16 T olive oil with one head parsley until smooth
Blend in 4 T balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper
When ready to serve place parsley in 1 1/3 C grated parmesan in bowl, toss with dressing

Complement with a reading list of Didion’s all-time favorite books and her sublime meditations on grief and self-respect, then treat yourself to The Modern Art Cookbook, Salvador Dalí’s little-known erotic gastronomy, Patti Smith’s lettuce soup recipe for starving artists, and a few favorite recipes of favorite poets.

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25 NOVEMBER, 2014

Eating Delancey: A Love Letter to Jewish Food and Its Iconic New York Bastions

By:

A warm celebration of knishes, kasha, lox, and the people and places of which collective memory is woven.

If it is true that we are what we eat and that telling stories is what makes us human, then at the intersection of these two adages lies an immutable truth about the stories we tell about the food we eat. That is why the greatest books of all time are full of memorable meals, why we find food so sensual, and why the best cookbooks tell the stories of their time and place.

That’s what food photographer Aaron Rezny and magazine creative director Jordan Schaps explore in Eating Delancey: A Celebration of Jewish Food (public library | IndieBound) — a delectable compendium of recipes, mouth-watering photographs, profiles of legendary establishments, jokes, and food-related sentimental stories by some of New York’s most interesting Jews about the beloved foods their immigrant ancestors transplanted from Europe to the Lower East Side in the early 20th century: knishes, kasha, dill pickles, bagels, lox, pastrami, whitefish, egg creams, and more.

The project, which features contributions by luminaries like violinist and conductor Itzhak Perlman, graphic designer Milton Glaser, artist Debbie Millman, and music legend Lou Reed, does for edible memories what Emily Spivack’s wonderful Worn Stories did for wearable ones.

Lower East Side pretzel vendor in the early 20th century

Joan Rivers writes in the introduction:

My mother was a very chic woman, very well read, a great hostess, and a horrible cook. She literally couldn’t cook anything beyond just a few dishes. And we weren’t kosher but she always went to kosher butchers. She thought the meat was better quality—not that it mattered since she didn’t know what to do with it in the first place. You know how they butcher kosher meat, right? The cows aren’t slaughtered. They’re nagged to death.

There’s an old joke: What does a Jewish woman make for dinner? Reservations. That was my mother. She did cook a few things: kasha varnishkes, eggele (or eyerlekh, which is Yiddish for “little eggs.” These are creamy, flavorful unhatched chicken eggs, either cooked inside a chicken or in a soup), and gribenes, which I just loved until I was about 13 and realized how fattening they are. And we always had challah.

So how did I develop my love for good Jewish food when it wasn’t on our table daily? I’ll tell you. My father was a doctor with a huge ethnic practice in Brownsville, Brooklyn. Obviously, most patients paid him but some could not afford to, and so they’d bring food in exchange for medical services. We got soups, blintzes… you name it. Stuffed derma was a big one for fixing a burst appendix. Oh my God, the food… it was just terrific and this is how I grew up — eating such food cooked with love and delivered by infirm and dying patients.

Joan Rivers, age 5

In a sentiment rendered inevitably poignant by Rivers’s recent death, she adds:

If I had to choose, my last meal would be a good piece of gefilte fish with some fantastic freshly grated horseradish on it.

In his 1968 homage to the true potato knish in general and Yonah Schimmel’s Knishes Bakery at 137 E. Houston Street in particular, legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser, creator of the iconic I♥NY logo and one wise soul, writes:

Although the knish has played an active role in many New York political campaigns, some readers may still never have seen or eaten one.

The authentic hand-made knish made at Yonah Schimmel’s is an irregularly shaped, fat, bun-like amalgam of mashed potatoes, flour, and onions, all encased in a thin, crisp, brown pastry skin, and as a food contains great stomach-filling properties. As is the custom with simple dishes, the knish is at its best when fresh, hot and made of ingredients of good quality. The mass-produced commercial knish most often encountered in New York delicatessens lacks these essentials. It can be recognized immediately by a thick, embossed surfaced of an unnaturally yellow hue. Another clue of its identification is its hard-edged rectangular shape. Because the commercial knish is often kept on a hot grill for days at a time, the potato filling tends to go sour. The real tragedy of this abuse is that many people brought up on this inferior product have never known a real knish. Yonah Schimmel’s is perhaps the last bastion of the genuine item.

Milton Glaser as a child

The humble bakery, Glaser notes, is the stuff of legend — a waiter who worked there for forty-five years recalls the fateful day when Eleanor Roosevelt walked in and bought a bag of knishes for her presidential husband.

In an touching essay titled “Grandma Lillian’s Cookies,” artist, author, and interviewer extraordinaire Debbie Millman explores how we imbue food with the comfort and love we long for:

I didn’t see my dad for a long time after he and my mother divorced. One day she told me he wasn’t coming home, and I saw him only one time again in the next five years. I remember seeing his car down the street where we lived when he was visiting the woman he left my mother for. But he didn’t visit us. I must have missed him, but I don’t remember thinking about it much. My father stopped paying his alimony and child support so my mother had to take him to family court to get him to pay. My mother took my little brother and me to court with her, and I got all dressed up because I wanted to look nice when he saw me. I wore an orange and pink dress with puffy sleeves and white rubber boots and I remember feeling both excited and nervous about facing him. We waited and waited but he never showed up and we went home without ever seeing him. Then my mother met a new man, and shortly thereafter they got married.

Everybody loathed my stepfather except my mother. Her mom and dad — my grandparents — disliked him so much they moved to North Miami to be as far away from him as possible. This devastated me, as my grandmother was my favorite person in the world. Grandma Lillian was a feisty little lady with coiffed silver hair and shimmery pink fingernails. She made mouth-watering meals whenever I came to visit her Brooklyn apartment on McDonald Avenue: melt-in-your-mouth pot roast with fluffy kasha varnishkes, crunchy potato pancakes, and the softest, sweetest cheesy blintzes with cold sour cream. Every meal ended with my grandmother’s famous butter cookies. Shaped like daisies with a single, perfect chocolate chip in the center and baked to a golden perfection, my grandma’s cookies were the very definition of happiness to my 10-year-old self.

All that ended when my stepfather moved in. He was short and thick and had the stubbiest fingers I’d ever seen. He was curt and violent and I was terrified of him. My brother braved it in our home until he was 13. When he couldn’t take it anymore, he called my father and he came and took him away. I didn’t see much of my brother for the next ten years. Neither did my grandmother.

Every couple of months Grandma mailed me a care package filled with cookies. I was gleeful when it arrived — I could always recognize her loopy script and the 50 two-cent stamps haphazardly stuck on the box. I’d take my time opening my precious package, and I would ration the cookies so they’d last as long as possible. I’d imagine her with me as I slowly ate them, fantasizing what it would be like to hear her laugh or feel her hand. I missed her.

Years later, after Grandma Lillian died, my mother, my brother, and I met at her funeral. I hadn’t seen my brother in a long time and we were both cautious and glum. We tentatively talked about our memories, and I waxed sentimental about our grandmother’s cookies. Suddenly he perked up. “Hey!” he said. “Grandma sent me a box of cookies when I was at school. But as I opened them up, I realized that mice had eaten through the box. I had to throw the whole thing away. What a waste.”

I didn’t know what to say. I looked at him and tried to find the years between us. I wasn’t sure if they were there.

Debbie Millman, age 10, with her Grandma Lillian

The great violinist and conductor Itzhak Perlman recounts moving from Israel to attend Julliard in New York and rediscovering a childhood favorite in Manhattan:

In Israel, my family didn’t go out to eat. For dessert, my mother used to bake a two-layer cake with yellow cake, chocolate butter cream filling, and chocolate butter cream frosting on top — it was delicious.

My mother’s cake was probably the reason why I wandered into Cake Masters on the Upper West Side. Cake Masters made cakes for Liberace, President Kennedy, and Elizabeth Taylor and was known by its slogan, “where baking is an art.”

Cake Masters made the best seven-layer cake that I ever had. It tasted just like my mother’s! Their seven-layer cake was layers upon layers of yellow cake and butter cream frosting. Each layer had a nice soft texture and wonderful taste. I still remember how they used to sell it by the slice with each slice separated by wax paper. Cake Masters was close to my parents’ home so I would stop by again and again and again.

Nestled between the profiles of legendary establishments and stories of family memories are also a number of recipes that reveal the secrets behind beloved treats:

KATZ’S DELI EGG CREAM

by Jake Dell, owner

Alright, so the perfect Katz’s egg cream is really simple. The oldest recipe in the book for egg creams is a little Fox’s U-Bet chocolate syrup—although if you’re kinda a chocolate wuss you can use a little vanilla syrup instead, but let’s be honest, chocolate egg creams are infinitely better in my humble opinion — fill that up about an inch or so. Put an equal amount of milk in there. Top it off with a little bit of seltzer and as you’re pouring the seltzer you stir vigorously and that’ll get you the nice head on top. Voila! You have the perfect egg cream.

Eating Delancey is a treat in its totality. Complement it with Liberace’s little-known cookbook, the Modern Art Cookbook, the vintage gem Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook, some real recipes from Roald Dahl’s children’s books, Dinah Fried’s magnificent photographs of meals from famous fiction, and Andy Warhol’s forgotten illustrated recipes.

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03 NOVEMBER, 2014

Found Meals of the Lost Generation: An Edible Time-Capsule of the Creative Scene of 1920s Paris

By:

James Joyce’s cocoa, Ernest Hemingway’s sausages, Gertrude Stein’s jugged hare, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s chicken, and more.

Given my voracious appetite for unusual cookbooks — particularly those at the intersection of literature, art, and cuisine, such as the vintage treasure Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook, the recently released Modern Art Cookbook, those real recipes from Roald Dahl’s children’s books, Salvador Dalí’s erotic gastronomy, Andy Warhol’s little-known illustrated recipes, and Dinah Fried’s magnificent photographs of meals from famous fiction — I was delighted to chance upon the 1994 gem Found Meals of the Lost Generation: Recipes and Anecdotes from 1920s Paris (public library). This unusual compendium offers what author Suzanne Rodriguez-Hunter aptly calls “social history with recipes, a kind of edible time machine” transporting us to the Parisian creative coterie of the 1920s, which Hemingway termed a “movable feast.” Each chapter is devoted to a major literary or artistic figure from that era’s artistic ecosystem, cumulatively known as the Lost Generation — including Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Sylvia Beach, James Joyce, Josephine Baker, and Isadora Duncan — and weaves together biographical anecdotes with recipes for an actual meal in which that person participated.

Rodriguez-Hunter writes of the Lost Generation’s singular allure:

They rebelled against their parents, danced to loud and shocking music, were disillusioned by war, flirted with cocaine, pushed the boundaries of sexual freedom, cut their hair geometrically and colored it with henna, loved abstract art, joined cults, flew in airplanes in a world grown small, drove fast cars, pondered their subconscious motivations, rejected conformism, and a lot of them drank or drugged too much… They were the Moderns — the first modern generation.

Zelda Fitzgerald's painting of Paris, one of her little-known watercolors. Click image for more.

These generational pioneers were born into a unique precipice of cultural change — the automobile had arrived, but it was clunky and expensive; phones were around, but far from common; the radio was yet to be invented; children worked in factories and most families lived in homes with outdoor toilets. During their heyday, the members of the Lost Generation witnessed and partook in remarkable social shifts — women’s right to vote, Freud’s liberation of the subconscious, the invention of the airplane, the rise of the cinema, and a seemingly uncontainable range of other innovations. Meanwhile, WWI had left millions disillusioned and dejected. Paris, emerging as the capital of Modernism, offered alluring respite from the breakage of the human spirit. In promising unparalleled creative refuge and revival, the city attracted a steady cohort of American expat artists and writers, who fused with the local community at literary salons, art exhibitions, parties, and various other social cross-pollinators.

The excitements and ambivalences of those changes became deeply embedded in how the Lost Generation lived and celebrated their lives — which invariably included their cuisine.

Here are a few favorites, beginning with hot chocolate, quaintly termed cocoa, à la James Joyce — one can easily envision him sipping it while sitting at his desk, careful not to drip any on his white writing coat.

COCOA

In a saucepan over very low heat combine 1 cup boiling water, ¼ cup of your favorite powdered cocoa, a dash of salt, and sugar to taste (approximately 3 tablespoons). Mix thoroughly. Add 3 cups scalded milk. Stir gently while mixture slowly heats, approximately 3 minutes. If desired, add 1 teaspoon vanilla near the end. Remove from heat, beat lightly with wire whisk, and pour into moustache cups or mugs.

Perhaps as James Joyce was warming up for his most revealing interview with a cup of hot chocolate, his interviewer, Djuna Barnes, was fortifying herself with a salad of winter lettuces.

A SALAD OF WINTER LETTUCES

In a small bowl combine 1 tablespoon walnut oil, 2 tablespoons high-quality olive oil, 1 tablespoon raspberry vinegar, and 1 finely minced shallot. Let flavors blend while preparing the salad.

Cut away and discard the stem of two large Belgian endives, removing whole leaves. Discard stems of 1 bunch watercress, breaking into sprigs. Tear 1 frisée endive into pieces (or equivalent amount of curly endive). Wash and dry all greens and place in salad bowl. Peel a small celeriac, slice it thinly, and cut slices into strips; add no more than ½ cup celeriac strips to greens. Pour dressing over salad and toss gently. Just before serving, sprinkle petals of 1 perfect red rose across the salad.

Even though Ernest Hemingway believed that “writing, at its best, is a lonely life,” it’s hard to imagine him feasting on these cervelas — short, fat sausages made of pork, usually seasoned with garlic — all by himself.

CERVELAS WITH MUSTARD SAUCE

Plunge 4 fresh cervelas or other pork/garlic sausages into a pot of boiling water, reduce heat, and let simmer for 5 minutes. Remove and rinse with cold water. In frying pan, melt small amount butter over moderate heat. Add sausages and cook until lightly browned. Serve with Mustard Sauce.

MUSTARD SAUCE

In a small mixing bowl combine 2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard and 3 tablespoons boiling water. Slowly add, drop by drop, 1/3 cup olive oil, beating constantly with a wire whip. The resulting sauce should be creamy. Add salt and pepper to taste, lemon juice if desired.

While Papa was a fan of pork, his buddy F. Scott Fitzgerald was partial to chicken.

CHICKEN MARYLAND

Cut a 3 ½ pound chicken into pieces. Dip each piece into milk, season with salt and pepper, dredge in flour, and let dry 30 minutes. In heavy skillet heat 3 tablespoons vegetable oil and sauté chicken on all sides until nicely browned. Add 1 cup hot water, ¼ teaspoon cumin, and ¼ teaspoon sage, and let come to boil. Immediately reduce heat, cover, and let simmer 45 minutes. Remove lid and simmer until all moisture has evaporated from pan. Serve.

A couple of decades before George Orwell concocted his 11 golden rules for the perfect cup of tea, Nina Hamnett and Jean Cocteau delighted Paris with their Formosa oolong tea, often considered the very best tea available — one would expect nothing less of Cocteau as a host.

FORMOSA OOLONG TEA

Bring a generous amount of very pure water to boil. Heat teapot by rinsing with boiling water. Put 1 teaspoonful of Formosa oolong or other tea into pot for each person; add an extra spoonful “for the pot.” Add boiling water approximately 1 cup per teaspoon of tea. Stir well. Let steep for 5 minutes. Serve.

And what would the era’s culinary scene be like without Parisian power couple Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, the former being the fairy godmother of the city’s creative community and the latter a culinary legend herself? Their jugged hare with red currant “found meal” is something Gertrude Stein recalls being served frequently by the wife of Henri Matisse, whose paintings became a centerpiece of Stein’s famed, generation-defining art collection.

JUGGED HARE

Cut a 5-pound rabbit or hare into pieces and place in deep (sic) bowl. In a separate bowl combine 1 cup red wine such as burgundy, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 1 large onion cut into quarters, 2 sliced carrots, 1 bay leaf, 12 whole peppercorns, 4 sprigs parsley, 1 ½ teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon fresh ground pepper. Stir ingredients well and pour over rabbit. If rabbit is not covered by mixture, add more wine. Cover and let marinate in refrigerator overnight.

Two hours before serving, drain rabbit mixture through a colander reserving marinade. Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large frying pan; sauté rabbit until browned on all sides. Remove to covered casserole. Sauté onions and carrots until soft in the same pan, adding a little olive oil if necessary. Add vegetables to casserole. Deglaze the pan with 1 cup water and add reserved marinade to casserole. Place casserole, covered, preheated in 300 degree oven. Prepare a beurre manié by blending with a fork ¼ cup flour and 2 tablespoons softened butter; stir into the casserole after 1 hour. Return casserole to oven for another 30 to 45 minutes. Arrange rabbit on a serving platter, strain sauce over meat, and surround with boiled potatoes. Serve with red currant jelly-wine sauce.

RED CURRANT JELLY-WINE SAUCE

Slowly heat 1 cup red currant jelly over medium fire; when runny, add 1 cup good red wine and 1 tablespoon lemon juice; mix well and simmer gently, uncovered, 5 minutes. Thicken to taste with sauce from the rabbit casserole. Just before serving blend in 1tablespoon brandy.

Illustration of Gertrude Stein by Natacha Ledwidge from a rare 1993 edition of The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook. Click image for more.

And for dessert, it hardly gets more modernist than Stein’s “nameless cookies” — because, after all, a cookie is a cookie is a cookie.

NAMELESS COOKIES

Sift together ¼ cup powdered sugar and 2 cups white flour. Cream 1 cup butter and add the flour mixture slowly, little by little; this procedure, stirring rather than beating as flour is added, should take about 20 minutes. At midway point, add 1 tablespoon curaçao and 1 teaspoon brandy. When mixture has been combined, roll the dough into small “sausage” rolls about 2 inches long and ½ inch thick. Place on lightly oiled cookie sheet 1 inch apart in preheated 275º oven; bake 20 minutes. Remove gently with spatula, gently sifting powdered sugar over them while still hot. Kept in tightly closed container, cookies will last up to 3 weeks.

Found Meals of the Lost Generation is absolutely delicious in its entirety. Complement it with the era’s ultimate culinary time-capsule, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, then revisit The Modern Art Cookbook and the Artists’ and Writers’ Cookbook.

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