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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Carpe Diem. Fulton Fish Market, Where it Began.

This excerpt from Mother's Five. A Season of Sauces. During this period, I was the food editor of the Chapel Hill News, and joined a conference in NYC of the AFJ, Association of Food Journalists. 

SEPTEMBER1995 AT FULTON FISH MARKET with the Association of Food Journalists.

Teddy's at Fulton Fish Market in 1944. A Tisket and a Basket of  Carp. 
             

“It is 2:30 isn’t it ?” came the questions, from uncoffee’d souls, not sure why now they had signed on for this early morning, Fulton Fish Market, tour.  Though the light inside the Westbury Hotel was the same as ever it appeared to be less bright than at 9am, coffee again, notwithstanding. 

            “Where is the goddamm coffee?” someone asked. Oh, that was me.  Walking amounted to mere attempts at shuffling. Blood circulated sleepily through veins, which only hours before, had rollicked alongside Rioja wines and tapas at the Metropolitan in a toast to the new Goya exhibit.

            We begin in a double decker bus, cruising the back streets of New York under the guidance of an almost full moon.

            At market we saw a doctorfish, mentioned by Shirley King in her book, Fish Basics. Cries of “watch out for trucks and men with hooks.”  Good advice no matter what the hour.

            “Nothing comes here by boat anymore.” Open 5 days from 3AM to 9AM.  Greatest variety of seafood on the Atlantic Seaboard.  Southern fish comes in Sunday and Wednesday.  Two buildings run from Fulton Street to Pecks Slip South.  Most fish sold whole.  Outa town people come on Monday, Thursday, and Friday. Oh, zee little crabs, king mackerel, Venezuela parrot fish, croakers, squid, spanish mackeral, weakfish, John Dory, and spots.  All fish in New York comes through here at some point.  Sea robin, carp, tuna, shark, sword, fluke, flounder, bluefish, red snapper, amberjack, porgies, marlin, yellowfish and the movement to not buy billfish.  Who needs a fish with a bill? Yikes!  Tilefish, deepwater local fish not floor specialist. Monkfish, shark of unknown origin, arctic char, skate wings, triggerfish, red mullet (rouge).


“Everything that moves in the water, we sell.” Fish from Portugal, just for the halibut. Atlantic Wolf Fish, charmer with teeth. We wave goodbye to fresh smelt, and pass Sloppy Lowie’s, established in 1930 on our way to Amy’s Breads.  

Little did I know the luminaries I was walking with. 


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Merging the Life of Cooking and Writing. Happy Mother's Day, Nana.

An excerpt from the Chapter on Ducks and Veloute in Mother's Five, A Season of Sauces.  


My brother, Jeremy, and I were handed over to Nana to raise like she raised her zinnias, begonnias, and tomatoes, right beside her deep bowls full of old fashioned yeasty potato dough she used for big round potato cakes and fastnacht doughnuts. We were about three years old and never gave a second thought to the arrangement, then. Nana also ran a Beauty Shop in her house on Fourth Street, which was right around the corner from my adopted mother's, Dr. Aileen's, medical practice on Douglas Street. I think because both these businesses were in our home, that may explain why I chose to build C’est si Bon! Cooking School beside our house, instead of renting a retail space.



Nana, (Dorothy) and her husband, Leroy's wedding portrait. 

Beauty Shop seems like an old-fashioned term. I mean how  many variations on a theme have we seen in that regard? But shop of beauty still perfectly describes Nana. Her linen tablecloths would also now be seen as vintage ~ but unlike her beauty Shop they are still here, and still in use at C'est si Bon! I used them in a Team Building just last week for a company that well, sees things a little differently. I talk back with Nana's simple and beautiful linens and as they lift her tablecloth off their "gourmet basket" my Team and I make sure they know the ingredients are organic. And so Nana's tablecloths are still full of her kind of beauty and her voice. The one she liked best was the one with bright red strawberries and a white background. That was for the days in May when the three of us, Nana, Jeremy, and me would have strawberry shortcake for dinner.




Nana, Jeremy and Me, early on. 

Nana didn't make cake in the traditional sense for our strawberry short cakes. She made a biscuit dough, patted it in and baked it in a glass pie plate. Her biscuit dough was a little on the sweet side. And the strawberries –  they were always bought the day we were going to eat them. Nana tucked quarters in our hands from the tin cans full of loose change that she kept in the glass-doored cupboard. We rushed out the front door and down the steps to the huckster lady who drove her truck slowly down Fourth Street every Wednesday morning. She drove slowly, so we would be sure to catch her. Nana shouted behind us - “taste them first and the best, only the best strawberries, you hear?” The huckster lady smiled as Nana watched from the front porch. 


About an hour before supper we mashed the sweet berries in a red pyrex bowl and mixed in lots of sugar. Nana pulled the hot shortcakes out of the oven, split them open while steaming, and spread them knee deep with butter, then piled on the strawberries and more strawberries. The crimson juice spilled all over the white plate. I'm sure Jeremy and I dribbled our fair share of red juice on Nana's tablecloth too. Well, I am sure I did. 

But besides buying strawberries from the huckster, Nana was devoted to going to the farmer's markets. And she was a natural teacher. I don't think she thought of it that way. But she was always dropped little hints as I tried to keep up with her in aisles of the 9th Street Market in Reading. But I was always dropping the paper bags instead, filled with white celery, mushrooms, parsley, and scallions that she piled in my arms. As the youngster, this was my job. I suppose I was in training then, but of course I had no idea about that either. This was "chust" the way it was done. I caught little wisps of her conversations with the vendors. She asked the poultry farmers about the muscovy ducks, the bakers about the bear claws and the rye bread. The farmers who heaped the straw over the celery to keep it white, always greeted her with a smile and a "Hello, Dot!" The man who ground horseradish knew she loved good food, and she was fussy about it. She knew exactly how she wanted her horseradish. I don't know how you learned all of what you knew. Nana, but you passed along everything. She adored cup cheese with molasses, sat down anytime for baby cakes dunked in coffee, and saw eye to eye with raisin sticky buns teeming with walnuts. 


Nana in Florida, with a friend. Maybe in her Forties?

Later my shopping privileges grew, and I advanced to being the main shopper. "Pick up some chicken corn soup  too, from Ciotti's freezer," she said. Was this a test to see if I had been paying attention during all our trips together? I am not sure how I got the big metal shopping cart out the door that first week. I'm sure she laughed a little as I tried to make it work. I like to think she had faith in me, I must have been about eleven, and I didn't know that being given the grocery shopping was such a big responsibility. I loved having the shopping to do, and I loved helping Nana. Going shopping to Ciotti's, the big Italian grocery store was the next step in the test, but again, I didn't see it that way. I only saw the glint in her eyes as her hands pinned the money in my pocket, as if now I had passed over the border into her land, and our bond grew. 


Nana at Fifty

One of the most special times with Nana was when I was newly married, and actually had nothing to do with food. Rich and I drove her away from Dr. Aileen's place where they both had moved; Mesa, Arizona. We drove west to California for a few days at Disney Land. This might have been for her 70th birthday. We drove with the windows open because the Cutlass Supreme had no air conditioning. Even though we kept checking in with her, Nana always shouted from the back seat that she was “chust fine.” We checked into a hotel just over the border in California and when we stepped into our room, there was a long mirror. Nana's hair was still perfectly coiffed, her permanent didn't let things get too far out of hand before they sprung back. But when I saw my hair – wild and windblown. She finally laughed out loud too, as if maybe we had recaptured a time where we had once been. A time we hadn't seen since Jeremy drowned. It was a sweet time, where the day was defined by simple tasks; like going to the market, digging weeds out of the garden, or collecting the heads of the zinnias in paper bags for their seeds. Before the time that Jeremy and I grew up and all innocence had passed. The time when she raised me and Jeremy on strawberry shortcake.  

She asked me to sit down on the bed. She slid my blue plastic comb out of my purse, and sat on the edge of the bed, too. We watched The Galloping Gourmet on TV and Nana patiently worked through the tangles to the ends.

As I say she was a Beautician. She always took matters into her own hands to fix them. When Jeremy and I first came to live with her she gave permanents and "sets" where she divided the neighbor ladies hair into plots and then into pin curls in the cellar shop. There beside the old wringer washer was one of those old-school bonnet hair dryers. Jeremy and I pretended to do each other's hair while she was washing clothes. My hair must have presented some sort of special project merit for Nana. Just like picking out the right Muscovy duck or getting the right grind on the horseradish, Nana was determined to fix the color of my hair and keep it curly. My hair was never allowed to get long, which of course I longed for, to be like the others girls. She always got out the hairdresser's scissors just when I thought maybe she would relent. Nana bleached my hair with baby shampoo mixed with 20 percent peroxide. She asked a hairdresser friend, Mr. Lloyd, for the correct timing. I remember my hair being very soft and yellow. And always curly. Later on, much later, when I was in charge of my own hair, I ferociously blew my hair dry and straight and in the dry heat of Arizona and California it was very easy.

            But on that day on in Hotel California Nana’s hands that had taught me all about the beauty of how to make biscuits, buy strawberries and search out chicken corn soup, held my long straight yellow hair as she softly stroked through. She didn't say a word. Neither did I. 


  

Later on, Nana and me.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

The Writing Life: Escoffier's Butter Maker Part Two

Read Escoffier's Butter Maker Part One 

Won't you join our trip to Paris? 


This excerpt is from a novel in progress, Aboyer: The Little Announcer.  Aboyer tells the tale of Chef Auguste Escoffier's butter maker. What she left to come to Paris, why she makes and sells butter in the great and famous old market, Les Halles.


A rush of cool air rises as I descend. The familiar chill envelops me. A burgeoning desire overwhelms me to turn away and enter the Paris that lives below the streets, walk out to the Seine, throw my cap aside and jump on a barge to wind back to Siena on the threads of water.
But I burrow and descend towards the darkness where my work keeps my secret. The sharp steely scent of the ground opens, like a flinty white from Bordeaux, from Graves on the left bank that I passed on my way north. My steps echo and lift towards Rue de Montmorency, the street of cherries, and a tree of the fruit that joins me with my daughter.
At the foot of the stairs, the cool dark startles my cape, made of black lamb’s wool, from Severino’s night flock. The curls weave even more tightly, refusing to unfurl and comfort me in the cold. Why this darkness? You know I prefer the light that begins each new day, and the heavy work. The old, grassy, smell of the souring cream, that reminds me of the room, how long ago it seems, where we first made the sweet ricotta, and where Cocotte was born.
The polished door swells from the dampness inside, perhaps as determined to remain closed as I am to open it. My fingers, the tips numb and spreading their ice up my arms, feel the length of the filagree key, and push it into the hole. It catches and the bolt releases, much as I felt the latch close on the box in Siena weeks ago. The box hides the letters, the wooden box that cradled the first cherries Cocotte picked in Severino’s orchard.
Down in the creamery, the stone-wall feels rough and damp. The lid on the oak box is heavy. After weeks of struggling, I know that once the suction is broken, the lid will lift easily, opening to the hard white treasure, inside the long rough wood.
But the sadness wakens in me; a deep and golden, aching vision of Cocotte, sleeping in the room below the patisserie. Cocotte, shh, wake, and remember my love for you.   


Perhaps she still does. She climbs to the top of the stairs. Straightens the mirror with the golden angels on the frame. She slips on her blue leather shoes with scuffs and opens the door to the shop. She walks across the shop’s black and white squares. She hits the iron framed window (it sticks too when cold outside.) with her palm and then breathes in the first light of Siena.
From butter's home in Paris, if only she could see what I am showing her. For I am showing her, that instead of working on the panforte, she should leave the shop and walk around the piazza and down the promenade and around the next corner. It’s so close to her, the proof that I am alive. Her blue leather shoes could enter the Duomo and snatch my cross, hanging where I left it for her to find. She can’t see it there, on the wall in the Duomo with so many others crowding around. Instead she walks past the Duomo to the cemetery, looking for her golden sadness, as she doesn’t believe Severino, she has found no evidence and she’s clever to question him. Has she dug for my bones? The ground is too hard, and dry. She’s not yet strong enough.  


I return to my work in the cremerie. The white mass in the trough is hard and unyielding; it’s job is to protect the center, the heart of the butter, where it all began. This cutting will take some time. Be patient. I prefer cutting the blocks, then washing them in the cool air. Leaving the irregularities in the texture where they are plain to see.  
Make them all the same, Auguste implored last night. But I don’t see the point. Anyone can do that.
Last night Auguste danced at the stove, showing me the sauce where tarragon stems, the shells of crayfish, and bones of espelette peppers swirl with butter.
But this morning, returning to the cremerie, I am alone. I mold the white butter into square stones that could build a path. A path to the mother inside, the mother I never was, one stone of butter at a time, for the one day, when Cocotte leaves Siena and winds her way to Paris.
The flavor is better when irregular, I whispered last night. But Auguste had already left, and I was alone at the stove, stirring the marrow into his Bordelaise. Even at that distance of meat and shallots and stock, I could still hear the butter.
Whether melted into a roux for le b├ęchamel, le veloute, a silky espaganole, or hot and streamed into l’hollandaise, or even for la tomate, it’s golden sheen swirls and loves the tomatoes from the day they were born in the hot sun.
This morning I stand over the trough in the cremerie and can't wait any longer to decide. Do I listen or ignore the buyers at Les Halles; who insist that their butter all look the same. Auguste maintains that he cares, that he sees, but they can’t see, and don’t care what I want. It doesn’t matter to them.
But it should, and to Auguste too. The shape of the butter does matter, and is more pleasant, as life can be, can be sweeter, despite being irregular, haphazard, the corners rough, chipping away to reveal the creamy center. He will understand. 


The thin knife penetrates, and slices across the long block of butter. I follow the cracks and cut irregular blocks guided by their path. Their path leads back where the flavor began; back where the butter began as a soft yellow secret, heavy and full of the fields.

The butter rounds with soft breathing sheep and Cocotte who is still sleeping. 
I reach her arm, shake her awake. Wake before dawn. Before you put the heavy copper pan on the stove, and you melt the butter and add the sugar – before the syrup swirls and dizzies the hazelnuts, almonds, and orange peel and you turn out the pan forte; while the air mists and  lifts between us. Cocotte, quickly, before the wall of nuts caramelizes, before it’s too late and the wall grows too high between us, between Siena and Paris. 


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