He Was a Dreamer

We’re coming to the edge
Running on the water
Coming through the fog
Your sons and daughters

Let the river run
Let all the dreamers
Wake the nation
Come, the New Jerusalem

As it turns out, my Aunt Meggie only had a short time left on this side of the grass. Although that was not present in her thoughts, or mine, when I visited her at her home in Chatam some two decades ago.  In Meggie there was no shred of fear, disappointment or regret. There was a peace and kindness in her eyes that was, and remains, an inspiration to me to this day.

She used to tell me that Chatham was her “third” home.  First: Brooklyn, King’s County; second: Woodbury, CT; and then Chatham, Cape Cod.  Originally Chatham was just a vacation/weekend retreat for Meggie and my Uncle Saul. While as a little boy I loved when we took family day trips (and occasional sleep-overs) up to Woodbury.  But once I got to College age and gained independence (and after Meggie had sold the home in Woodbury), I tried to get down to the Cape for a visit at least once or twice a year.  A visit to Chatham always “re-charged my batteries”.  First, Meggie made boffo chocolate chip cookies.  Second (and more important), she was a repository of wonderful family stories.  Stories, richly detailed, insightful and packed with warmth, wisdom and wit.  And in particular for me, there was added poignancy to the tales after the passing of Saul, and after the passing of my parents.

On the day I am thinking of, it was a clear and not overly cold February afternoon.  The type of day if you went to the Cape Cod shore the sky would be a brilliant blue canopy spotted with linen white clouds, and the waters of the Atlantic would be awash in the sun. Meggie and I made our way to Chatham’s Lighthouse Beach.  We both love a beach in winter.  There is a soothing quality in seeing an open unpopulated stretch of sand abiding next to lightly turning waves, and quiet except for the occasional cackle from a circling gull.  We spotted a couple of likeminded souls working their way along water’s edge.  Someone else brought along their Golden Retriever, who happily chased after a frisbee.

As much as I love looking out to an expanse of sea, my Mother had always advised me to keep looking down as I walked along a beach.  “You never know what you’ll find, Jimmy.”  And as a young boy, I dutifully followed her recommendation whenever I patrolled the beaches, first of Milford and then of Norwalk.  A rocky jetty was home to snails, hermit crabs and mussels that clung to rocks.  At low tide there would be an occasional horseshoe crab carcass rotting in the sun.  Shells, and shell fragments galore scattered about in the soft Long Island Sound sand.  And then a rarity: a piece of sea glass brushed to a dull appearance by decades of being beaten by sea and sand.  The bright shiny surfaces transformed into soft dusty pastels.  Above all else, I loved finding shards of sea glass… a pastime I passed along to my two daughters.

And so it was on that bright February afternoon, as Meggie and I walked along the beach, that she stopped and said, “Why look!  A beautiful piece of sea glass!”  She bent down, picked it up, brought it up to the sky and into the sun to better inspect it. “Blue!  This is a keeper.”  And she put the small piece of glass into her coat pocket.  This was not to be unexpected.  Meggie (and presumably Uncle Saul, too) was a committed sea glass collector.  Evidence of this interest was clearly seen in their den.  There on the étagère wedged in the corner of that room, on a lower shelf, was a good sized glass jar filled with pieces of sea glass.  Blues, greens, a precious few reds or browns… and some whites.  White sea glass most being the most commonly found, often didn’t make the cut to be saved for posterity.

We continued our walk. When I stopped to pick up the frisbee at my feet and return it to the grateful Retriever, Meggie paused, took out that piece of sea glass from her pocket, “Blue.  Uncle Saul thought that blue sea glass was a gift sent by the angels.”

She continued. “Jimmy, you know how Uncle Saul used to love kidding around. He could tease me left and right.  It could be of the most inconsequential things… the Grand Union was running out of toilet paper!  And I would dutifully drive down to Southbury to lay in a supply of TP. But when he spoke of what sea glass represented, there was no foolin’ around in his voice.”

Meggie looked at that blue glass again.  Closed her eyes, and brought that small piece of blue to her breast.

“My Saul was a dreamer.  A marvelous dreamer.  It could be playing the clarinet, or bewitching a young girl in Paris. A young girl in Paris, like me.  There was something in those eyes that spoke of pages not yet written, adventures not yet charted.”

The small piece of glass was returned to the safety of her pocket. 

“Our first discovery of sea glass happened accidentally, and I think that is the way it usually is with stuff you find on the beach. You just stumble upon something.   Honestly, I can’t remember the beach.  I even doubt my memory to recalling the State!  What I recall are Saul’s words.  Words that are as clear to me as this February day.”

“When he picked up that small piece of brushed blue glass he looked at me, and said, ‘Miriam (yes, my given name, which meant that what followed was serious) this small piece of blue was sent to us!  It’s a gift, it’s not happenstance.  It comes to us from my Zayde Avraham.  And my Bubbe Rachel has poked him in the ribs to send this to me.  Rachel told my Grandfather, let him know that our Sabbath table is set; but there is no need for us to rush.’”

“So with the found piece of glass in his hand, he then turned to the sky and said a prayer.  As best he could, he adopted a solemn posture of reverence and respect.  Although he didn’t admit it to me, I am sure that the Hebrew he intoned could have been pure drivel. When I asked him what the prayer said.  He smiled, and he admitted that he didn’t know.”

“Then he looked at me with the warmest of expressions and said, ‘But words are just words regardless of language.  For the meaning: it’s wrapped in our heart, our emotion and the melody for living.’”

Meggie shook her head. Laughed. Shoulders drooped some.  Gestures that spoke volumes to a sweet richness of life, and a vacancy that could never be filled. Then a broad smile bloomed on her face.

Glass secure in her pocket, she brought the coat collar up to shield her face to the light breeze coming in off the sea.  She looked at me with a warmth that I only wished I could have bottled for safe keeping.  A warmth that was connected intimately to a dreamer in the sky.

Posted in Meggie & Saul | Leave a comment

BLT Supreme & Montesel Prosecco ’16

BLT Supreme

Hard to imagine that a sandwich as prosaic as a BLT needs further elaboration or exposition. It’s the way I felt! BLT? Yawn. Wake up you doubters! There is a “new” way to attack this modest assemblage and bring it to higher heights! And I am here to take you to a better way, a sinfully good way, a way that will make the angels in heaven weep tears of joy! How so? It’s in the creation of a “bacon weave”… a skill set I have recently acquired (thank you, Delish cookbook). Of two things I can assure you. (1) Once you try this method, your life will never be the same. (2) You will never order a BLT out again. For the rest of your life. Even if it’s in heaven, or hell (as the case may be).

Wine? You ask? Years ago I learned one of life’s simplest lessons: “Pearls go with everything!” And in terms of wine? Sparkling wines are the liquid pearls of the wine world. There is not a single food that will cross your lips that won’t be made better by the sip of a bubbly. And that’s certainly the case with Montesel Prosecco… which I have loved over the previous three vintages, and continue to love in this vintage!

Montesel ‘Vigna del Paradiso’ Prosecco ’16
(Conegliano-Valdobbiadene, Italy)

The Conegliano-Valdobbiadene is the only zone authorized to make Prosecco Superiore DOCG. This Prosecco is a delight great at any time, perfect as an Aperitif. Made from 100% Prosecco Balbi from a 7.5 hectare single vineyard, 30-year-old vines, dense planting, all hand-harvested. Velvety soft and fresh in the mouth, a bouquet of citrus, apple, pears, almonds and white florals. Superbly balanced with a delicate, persistent perlage.

BLT Supreme

Ingredients (for 1 splendid sandwich)

6 ounces of Tanqueray Gin
½ ounce of Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
3 slices of thick-cut bacon
2 slices of tomato
Some lettuce
Fresh ground black pepper
Russian Dressing
2 pieces of country white toast

Directions

  1. Put gin and vermouth into a glass pitcher, fill with ice, stir vigorously while incanting, “You who know all, thank you for providing us juniper and all the other obscure ingredients responsible for creating this sacred liquid!” Strain into a pre-frozen Martini glass of admirable size. Skewer the olives on one of those tacky cocktail swords, place in glass. Immediately begin consuming. Now you can begin the food prep, and the cooking!

    Bacon weaved

  2. Cut the three slices of bacon in half. And create a 3×3- weave with the six pieces, placed on microwavable plate, double layered with two sections of paper towel.
  3. Apply a serious amount of fresh ground black pepper to the bacon, and cover with another layer of paper towel.
  4. Put in the microwave for 5:15 minutes for “well done” bacon. Let bacon sit for 30 seconds, covered (helps absorb the grease).

    Bacon weaved

  5. Put a good shmear of Russian Dressing on one of the pieces of toast. Put down a layer of lettuce, 2 slices of tomato and then top with the “bacon weave”, cover with second piece of toast.
  6. Compress the sandwich a bit, and then cut on the diagonal. Take a healthy bite, then smile!

n.b. The Editors of Delish recommend “regular” thickness bacon. I only had thick-cut on hand when I first tried the “weave” so I used it… I liked the results, so I’m sticking with it. Don’t like pepper? Leave it out (Chicken Little!). Russian Dressing vs. Mayo? I made Sandy’s sandwich with Mayo, and she sang praises. I happen to love Russian Dressing, but I can imagine that many of the “alt versions” of Mayo that I see out there would work well here. I used “Country White” bread because I think the thickness and density makes for great toast. Finally, do you have a preference on how to assemble the sandwich itself? My preference is bacon on the bottom, lettuce next and then the tomato… it just doesn’t photograph well that way! But, and this is important, cutting the sandwich on the diagonal is not optional. (Cutting sandwiches on the north/south axis is not acceptable past the second grade.)

Posted in Sandy's Table | Leave a comment

The Key Brands

I’m not a huge cereal guy. And? I don’t know if I was ever a real cereal guy. Maybe as a kid? But once I entered Union I discovered the exceptional quality of eggs over-easy & whatever my interest in cereal went into permanent decline. Still, today I try (notice, try) to put my spoon in a bowl of cereal on occasion. For several years now my consumption of cereal, maybe one or two times a week, has been confined to either Frosted Mini-Wheats, or Honey-nut Cheerios. Well, even the most confirmed lover of poetry can tire of William Shakespeare and Winnie the Pooh, no? And so it was on a recent visit to Stop & Shop, Sandy I worked our way down Aisle 7 (cereal & candy) and I decided to grab a box of Special K. Special K? Mommie Soph told me to do it! And I did! And in doing so, put me in mind of a few key brands that I identify with 25 Alston Ave.

Below, a brief, and by no means complete, survey of distinctive brands that took up residence at 25 Alston Ave.

Special K

Kellogg's Special K

This was Mommie Soph’s cereal of choice. And I think she had it every day for breakfast. Growing up I think I had cold cereal for breakfast on most days, and I think that Special K was not a top option for me.

Chesterfield Cigarettes

Chesterfield cigarettes

Mom’s brand of smokes. She was a two-pack-a-day smoker. Dad told me that he introduced smoking to her when they were young, and when smoking was thought to be a sign of sophistication. Sadly, while Dad was able to be a “social smoker,” Mom became addicted to nicotine. Notice the typeface on the brand. Remind you of Chipp, Inc?

Vermont Maid Maple Syrup

Vermont Maid

Pancakes were only on the breakfast menu occasionally (when I was growing up). Waffles would only have been a “pop-in-the-toaster” thing (and I am not even sure if toaster waffles were around when we lived at 25 Alston). And I can never recall having French toast (but we probably did). That said, we always had a bottle of maple syrup in the house. And back then, it was called maple syrup — not syrup.

Wonder Bread

Wonder Bread

This was a sticking point with me. I wanted “batter whipped” Sunbeam Bread… light, fluffy and more appealing. We were Wonder Bread people. It supposedly had a higher “nutritional value”?

Minute Maid OJ & Pink Lemonade (frozen concentrated)

As a kid, I drank juice straight from the fridge, no glass used. And I drank a lot of it! And on a summer day there was nothing more frustrating to me than to run into the house, thirst crazed, and find no juice already made. I would take the a can out of the freezer, open it up, take a knife and proceed to chop at the frozen block of juice to speed the defrosting process along. 

Posted in The Small Pictures | Leave a comment

Chicken Parm Burgs & Penya Rouge

I have been following the Delish recipes on Facebook for some time. The recipes look catchy, fairly simple & straightforward and the fast-motion video clips help with the techniques to use. The last clip invariably shows a fork digging into the finished product; and even if it’s something I wouldn’t like, I find myself thinking: “I gotta give that a try!”

The featured recipe from a couple of weeks ago was “Chicken Parm Burgers”… not only did the recipe (and video clips) entice me, but there was a “tickler” advert for a Delish cookbook Eat Like Every Day’s the Weekend. I immediately ordered the book. What can I say? The recipes are diverse, fun & easy to follow; the photography is top stuff (too bad, no video clips); and the writing is very good, laced with wit and a touch of smart-ass.

About the Chicken Parm Burgers, this is the lead text: “These are for everyone who loves the idea of making Chicken Parm but who don’t actually want to deal with the whole dredging thing. The chicken patties simmer in marinara, so they’ll never turn out dry.” Homerun, out-of-the-park!

Wine? Comfort food calls for comfort wine… heretofore referred to in these pages as “bistro & café” wines. Italy abounds with Reds that I would so classify: Barbera, Valpolicella, Montepulciano, Primitivo & etc. And certainly these wines would fit to a “T”. But there are other Reds that would also pair superbly with this dish that come from other Countries and Regions. One of my go-to sources for this style of wine is the Southern Rhône and the French South. These are areas noted for their tasty blends that have beautiful fruit, and a palate cleansing level of acidity that works so well alongside of food. Have a bite of food, take a sip of wine, talk, have a bite of food, have a sip of wine, talk — and repeat ‘til wine, food and charming anecdotes/observations are finished.

This wine recommendation is from an area that was part of Spain up thru the 1600s. And the varietal blend is not only typical for the French South, but could just as easily pass muster in Montsant and the Priorat from the other side of the Pyrenees!

Penya Rouge ’15 (Côtes Catalanes, France)
Cases-de-Pène is a tiny village in the Roussillon region of Southern France, just 30 miles north of the Spain. Ceded to France in the mid 17th century, the area is still known as “French Catalonia”. The 2015 Rouge is a blend of 52% Grenache, 36% Carignan and 12% Syrah fermented and aged in tank. This medium-bodied blend is packed with flavor, offering aromas of plums & cherries with smoky notes. The palate yields red and black fruits, spices, a hint of bacon, and silky tannins.

Chicken Parm Burgers

Ingredients

6 ounces of Tanqueray Gin
½ ounce of Noilly Pratt Dry Vermouth
1 lb Ground Chicken
½ cup Italian breadcrumbs
¼ cup fresh chopped parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp Vegetable oil
2 cups Marinara, plus more for buns
¼ cup shredded mozzarella
4 Hamburger buns, toasted
Freshly sliced basil, for garnish

Directions

  1. Put gin and vermouth into a glass pitcher, fill with ice, stir vigorously while incanting, “You who know all, thank you for providing us juniper and all the other obscure ingredients responsible for creating this sacred liquid!” Strain into a pre-frozen Martini glass of admirable size. Skewer the olives on one of those tacky cocktail swords, place in glass. Immediately begin consuming. Now you can begin the food prep, and the cooking!
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the chicken, breadcrumbs, garlic, parsley, and Parmesan and season with salt and pepper. Form into four patties.
  3. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat oil. Cook patties until the bottoms are golden, 4 to 5 minutes, then flip and add marinara to the skillet. Bring to a simmer (reduce heat to medium if sauce is bubbling to rapidly) and top each patty evenly with mozzarella. Cover and cook until chicken is cooked through and the cheese melts. 10 minutes, or so.
  4. Spoon sauce for skillet onto the bottom halves of the burger buns and place patties on top. Top with basil, and the burger bun tops.

n.b. I used slices of fresh mozzarella instead of the shredded kind. There is something about a thick slice of mozz that puts a smile on my face. My bun of choice is sesame topped. Something else that makes me smile!

Posted in Sandy's Table | Leave a comment