June 29, 2012

Ho-Made Pies & Queen of Tarts

Confessions of a Roadfoody

Many people believe it would be fun to travel on the road with me.  Many people are wrong.  I have a roadtrip rhythm that works just fine for me but would be hell to those of a passing interest in regional foods.  

I drive to eat.

Today any serious Foody can find their favorite poison on the internet and order it to be delivered to their front door within twenty-four hours. 

And then there is… us - who believe that life is not worth living without discovering some exotic back-road treasure.  We work hard to get them and getting them is often a wild ride. 

The first time I considered inviting a guest to ride along was in the mid 1970s. I had an aqaintance who worked in the movie business and who thought that the passion for homemade pies, barbecued ribs and roadside America would make a brilliant movie.  Looking back, I was prescient to know without a shadow of a doubt that there was no way on earth I would take this high-powered ego on a road trip.
Next, I considered Clive.  My first inkling that he was a kindred spirit came during our first West Coast wanderings.  He never missed out on any foody stops.

He loved the idea of roadfood.  I was in hog heaven. 

After laying waste to countless meals in just a few days, we got slap-happy.  The roadfood obsession becomes so pervasive that it infiltrates your dreams.  The more we were out there, away from home, wandering along blue highways and backroads, the more our sight, smell, and hearing became warped.  This is the onset of roadfood delirium. It may not be pathological, but it happens with such regularity that I have to conclude that our brains are wired a certain way.

p.s.:  The founder, Jack Morrison, spelled home made pie as ho-made so the letter would fit on the small sign.  It was not until later that the word "ho" got its current meaning.  The Thunderbird is built on tradition and family and thus the sign and the spelling has remained.

p.p.s.: permission granted to “purloin” D’s apricot tart recipe. Thank you.  

Tarte aux Abricots (Apricot Tart)
1  10-inch partially baked tart shell (baked at 400° for 5-10 minutes to dry out the bottom)
2 lbs. ripe apricots, halved and pitted
1/2 cup sugar
2 medium eggs
2 Tablespoons flour
1/2 cup crème fraîche

Preheat oven to 400°F
1.         Sprinkle 1/4 cup of sugar over the apricot halves, cut side up and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
2.         Arrange the apricots, cut side up and slightly overlapping in the tart shell.
3.         In a mixing bowl, combine the rest of the sugar, eggs, flour and cream and mix thoroughly.  Pour over the apricots.
4.         Place the tart on a cookie sheet and bake for 30 minutes or until golden.
            Best served warm from the oven.

June 21, 2012

Time(d) Out.

"Here is a place where the silence allows you to hear the swish of falling stars."

~ Wallace Stegner

“Once upon a time, in some out of the way corner of that universe which is dispersed into numberless twinkling solar systems, there was a star upon which clever beasts invented knowing. That was the most arrogant and mendacious minute of “world history,” but nevertheless, it was only a minute. After nature had drawn a few breaths, the star cooled and congealed, and the clever beasts had to die. One might invent such a fable, and yet he still would not have adequately illustrated how miserable, how shadowy and transient, how aimless and arbitrary the human intellect looks within nature. There were eternities during which it did not exist. And when it is all over with the human intellect, nothing will have happened.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche

June 18, 2012


…verb (used without object). 

Remember that bratty little girl from the Willie Wonka movie? "I want an Oompaloompa, Daddy, and I want one NOW!"  Well, I wanted Summer!  WE GOT SUMMER!

Improbable as it may seem, I’m out of words. You know how that just happens some times?  Not from sorrow, or fear, or overwhelm. Just used up too many yesterday.  And then this morning there is that song that is stuck in my head and all I can manage is… ---------- and…just what was in that morning cup of coffee? 

Picture yourself in a boat on a river,
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies.
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly,
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes...

(come on, sing along, you know you want to)



June 15, 2012

The sadness in the spaces between the words.

There is the apocryphal story in which Hemingway, sitting in a bar somewhere in Key West, is asked by an antagonistic admirer to follow his minimalism to its logical outcome and to tell a story in six words.  As the story goes, Hemingway picks up a napkin and writes out the following words:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

This is a pretty good story. Everything pared away until there’s almost nothing left. The iceberg theory of fiction the genre of micro fiction, or whatever one might want to call it is itself small and little of it is worth reading. But there are exceptions.   

To whit - “Sticks,” by George Saunders.

Every year Thanksgiving night we flocked out behind Dad as he dragged the Santa suit to the road and draped it over a kind of crucifix he'd built out of metal pole in the yard. Super Bowl week the pole was dressed in a jersey and Rod's helmet and Rod had to clear it with Dad if he wanted to take the helmet off. On the Fourth of July the pole was Uncle Sam, on Veteran’s Day a soldier, on Halloween a ghost. The pole was Dad's only concession to glee. We were allowed a single Crayola from the box at a time. One Christmas Eve he shrieked at Kimmie for wasting an apple slice. He hovered over us as we poured ketchup saying: good enough good enough good enough. Birthday parties consisted of cupcakes, no ice cream. The first I brought a date over she said: what's with your dad and that pole? And I sat there blinking.

We left home, married, and had children, found the seeds of meanness blooming also within us. Dad began dressing the pole with more complexity and less discernible logic. He draped some kind of fur over it on Groundhog Day and lugged out a floodlight to ensure a shadow. When an earthquake struck Chile he laid the pole on its side and spray painted a rift in the earth. Mom died and he dressed the pole as Death and hung from the crossbar photos of Mom as a baby. We'd stop by and find odd talismans from his youth arranged around the base: army medals, theater tickets, old sweatshirts, tubes of Mom's makeup. One autumn he painted the pole bright yellow. He covered it with cotton swabs that winter for warmth and provided offspring by hammering in six crossed sticks around the yard. He ran lengths of string between the pole and the sticks, and taped to the string letters of apology, admissions of error, pleas for understanding, all written in a frantic hand on index cards. He painted a sign saying LOVE and hung it from the pole and another that said FORGIVE? And then he died in the hall with the radio on and we sold the house to a young couple who yanked out the pole and the sticks and left them by the road on garbage day.

Here then is an entire novel’s worth of intrigue and emotional complexity and back story and difficult familial relationships and unhappiness's and losses and redemption's.  One can’t help but think of all those homes run by inexpressive and angry fathers who know something of love’s austere offices, these homes that suddenly erupt in holiday decorations.  Rudolph's and Santa's and baby Jesus' and lights and holly all over the place.  This phenomenon…the phenomenon of the father who has no creative outlet but finds an avenue in his front yard…an aspect of contemporary life in the U.S., and one that perhaps warrants closer examination.  There are dissertations here.  And Saunders’ story is a fine departure point.

June 10, 2012

the way they were

“We were so young and gay then and we thought we had all the money in the world. It will be sad if the great houses vanish and the Mizner period becomes only a memory and part of Palm Beach’s past rather than its present.”  -Billie Burke  


Ever since Henry Flagler left his Standard Oil office at 26 Broadway and transformed Florida’s East Coast into the American Riviera, New York and Palm Beach have shared the same social caste. Flagler envisioned Palm Beach as an international destination, built as much an indulgent retreat set apart from reason and restraint as it was patterned from the existing social DNA.

Glamorous yet quaint: Palm Beach in the 1950s and early ‘60s was a naively decadent playground where Queen Mary (Sanford) reigned supreme and everybody square danced on Thursday nights at Mar-a-Lago. 

Not a Trump in sight, but there were plenty of face cards, and they all knew who they were. It was as if everyone who really mattered had had gravitated to this place. Palm Beach in the fifties and sixties was more a private club than a glittering resort.

Of all the gaily colored moths that fluttered about then, the undisputed queen bee was Mrs. Stephen ("Laddie") Sanford, or Queen Mary, as she was unabashedly called. Royal garden parties were held in her honor, and if one was invited to her oceanfront villa, Los Incas, one knew that one needed to climb no farther.

Daphne (Mrs. George) Cameron in the trophy room of Laddie Sanford's house/Slim Aarons

People you had never heard of came from places like Cleveland and booked the whole winter season at the Breakers hotel, hoping to get the nod from Mary. Few did. Los Incas is gone, as is “Queen Mary” and without Mary Sanford at the helm, Palm Beach seems like a rudderless ship, an untethered balloon.

What did they talk about then?  Why, last night's party, of course-who got drunk and made a fool of himself, and who slipped off into the pool house with whom, and for how long, and for what possible purpose. Lawsuits were a popular diversion, and the question "How's your lawsuit coming?" was a good conversation starter in almost any group. Gregg Sherwood Dodge, the beautiful ex-show girl who had married the automobile heir, was suing Mary Sanford. Nobody really knew what this was all about, but it was exciting while it lasted because it split Palm Beach right down the middle, between Mary loyalists and Gregg loyalists, and everyone was disappointed when the two women kissed and made up.

Divorces and love affairs were as messy then as they are now, but somehow they were more glamorously messy. Detectives once barged in on Mollie Wilmot and found her wearing nothing but her estranged husband's self-winding watch. ("I had to wear it to keep it wound," she explained.) Then there was the dramatic moment when Patrick Lannan, the late art collector, who had an underground private museum beneath his Palm Beach house, "changed Marys."  

Pat Lannan /Slim Aarons

His "constant companion" had been Mary Sanford. Suddenly the designer Mary McFadden had taken the other Mary's place, and what did everybody think of that?

There was a third Mary in those days-Mary Donahue. She was considered rather naughty, but her husband's brother, the Woolworth heir Jimmy Donahue, long dead, was the really naughty one, and everyone loved him-especially the duchess of Windsor.

the duke of Windsor's golf clubs, at the first tee on the Seminole Club in 1964

Other exotics floated in and out of Palm Beach. There was the Donahues' cousin Barbara Hutton, looking like a beautiful white lily whose slender stem had already been broken by  a cyclone called Porfirio Rubirosa (Ruby Baby), the dashing Dominican was every woman's dream.

Meanwhile, Lilly Pulitzer-this was long before there was a Roxanne- made dirty feet chic. She went barefoot everywhere, and it was amusing to watch her padding around her kitchen in her bare feet, cooking dinner for a party.

Lilly also made it chic to work. She made brightly patterned women's shifts and brightly patterned men's pants. Soon lots of social Palm Beach women were working too, opening little art galleries on Worth Avenue and little shops that sold costly and mostly useless bibelots, and that did nothing but lose money.


Worth Avenue 1960's

And then there were the Kennedy's who had a handsome son who wanted to be president of the United States.

Marjorie Merriweather Post wasn't really social she gave terrible parties, and her Thursday-night square dances were universally dreaded, though attending them was a must. They were carried out with paramilitary precision, with Mrs. Post barking out the orders in her loud Midwestern twang. Guests were expected at the doorstep of Mar-a-Lago precisely at 7:30, not a minute earlier or a minute later. Once they had all flocked in, each guest was served no more than two drinks. At 8:00 sharp, dinner was announced, and those whose invitations read "cocktails only" were ordered to leave, while the rest were seated. Mrs. Post's meals were undistinguished. Chicken hash was a favorite entree.

At precisely 9:30 P.M., guests were marched toward the ballroom, but before entering they had to remove their shoes and don satin slippers, thus to protect Mrs. P.'s highly waxed ballroom floor. Then, everybody had to square dance. No wallflowering or resting between sets was permitted. On the dot of eleven, the music stopped, and guests were told to go home.

Mrs. Post's hated parties today seem no more than a fleeting, irritating memory to those few Palm Beach people left who had to endure them. And Brownie McLean, whose mother-in-law owned the Hope diamond, now lives in a Trump condo in West Palm Beach.  

Today, the old Palm Beach of fifty-odd years ago, most of which was recorded for posterity by Slim Aarons, seems quaint and lovable, like something you might pull out of a trunk in Grandma's attic as quaint as a flower-printed dress from Lilly Pulitzer.

The old Palm Beach blends with the Old South they (and my Rollie) are gone with the wind.

June 06, 2012

We'll Always Have Paris…

Ray Bradbury was never at a loss for opinions.  And those opinions could be both surprising and controversial-covering a “DARK CARNIVAL” of everyone from Fellini to Buck Rogers, and everything from restaurants to the recession, modern art, Reaganomics, television, the homeless and urban design, or the lack thereof.

His writing changed the way we think from THE MARTIAN CHRONICLES to NOW AND FOREVER with more than five hundred published works -short stories, novels, plays, screenplays, television scripts, and verse –they exemplify the American imagination at its most creative.

"People are afraid of fantasy," he said. "A lot of intellectuals think science fiction is trivial. And it's pivotal! People are walking around the streets with phones to their heads talking to someone ten feet away. We've killed two million people with automobiles. We're surrounded by technology and the problems created by technology, and science fiction isn't important?"

And yet, Bradbury still was not taken seriously by the literary establishment. His work has never been reviewed by the New York Review of Books. 

"I was born a collector of metaphors," he said. "Metaphors are the center of life. I'm deeply influenced by Greek mythology, Roman mythology. The colorful stuff, anything magical. I've had all this stuff in my head from the age of three on. When I was six or seven in Sunday School, we read about Daniel in the lions' den. I thought, 'wouldn't it be wonderful to be Daniel, to lie down with lions and sleep with them unharmed? I know that influenced my story The Veldt where the lions come out of the walls and eat the parents." Bradbury says he began writing and even in a small way broadcasting, when he was twelve. "I told my friends I was going to be a radio actor. I started to hang around the local station, emptied the trash, ran errands. Two weeks later I was reading the comic strips to the kiddies on the air. I still have all those comics put away. Buck Rogers! My pay was free tickets to the movies: King Kong, The Mummy, The Wax Museum. How lucky can you get!"

Once read, his words are never forgotten. His best-known and most beloved books are masterworks that readers carry with them over a lifetime. His timeless, constant appeal to audiences, young and old, has proven him to be one of the truly classic authors of the 20th Century-and the 21st.

His primary occupation was exactly what it had been for more than 60 years.

"I never know from day to day which of my books I'll be working on," he said. "I lie in bed at seven in the morning and the voices of my characters talk to me. They control everything. I write hurrying on, hoping to find out what will happen next."

June 04, 2012

Quaffed or Swigged.

My introduction to bourbon happened early one morning when my prospective mother-in-law reached across and offered me her flask.  It was my first time out.  I swigged with gusto, the stuff would have made Godzilla gasp.  Mother R. looked at me, smiled,  and said “for courage”.  This is part of the tradition. It keeps you happy. It keeps you warm. It keeps you brave and it kept me on the horse!

It has been called everything from Dixie Nectar and Liquor Joy to Old Friend. It is Bourbon the legendary liquid embodiment of the American spirit a democratic drink savored by devotees who run the gamut from Chanel-suited arbiters of taste to good old boys and from oratorically inclined politicos to CEOs and college students. And now, right up there with such American icons as Levi's, Coca-Cola and Apple, bourbon has gone global where trendy young drinkers have discovered its unique flavor. It is the chic drink in hip clubs and the sole attraction at innumerable whiskey-only bars, where its all-American imagery has lent the liquor an ineffable cachet and an aura rivaled only by trinkets from Tiffany.

The fascination with bourbon is as informed as it is intense. A journalist spent many hours at the Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History, in Bardstown, Kentucky. The visits purpose?  Research for a book a catalog-size compendium containing photos of every shred of bourbon memorabilia and paraphernalia housed in the museum itself.

Bourbon is a drink whose historic roots mirror the folklore of America's colorful, fiercely independent frontier past. Back when streams still sparkled and the social life of early Kentucky settlers revolved around quilting bees and barn raisings, the native corn grown on most farms was a staple for both man and beast, and the "good spirits" distilled by settlers were an accepted medium of exchange. With the prohibitive cost of transporting milled corn to the eastern markets, it was not long before some bright fellow figured out that by converting the crop to whiskey, a horse could carry the equivalent of a dozen bushels of corn to the nearest trading post.

The crystal-clear water used to distill the whiskey was another pivotal element in the early days of bourbon's development. Central Kentucky sits on a deep shelf of limestone, which acted as a filter on the streams running through it, leaving the water free of the iron and minerals that might adversely affect the product's taste. Kentucky whiskey didn't actually become bourbon until the Reverend Elijah Craig, a Kentucky-based Baptist preacher who took pleasure in an occasional nip, reportedly devised the prototype in the spring of 1789, when he accidentally charred the inside of one of the barrels he was using to transport his homemade liquor (a combination of limestone-pure spring water and corn with some rye and barley malt) by barge to the New Orleans market. The thrifty Craig used the charred barrel anyway, and a few months later, when the whiskey had made its voyage downriver, it was discovered that it had taken on added color and balance by absorbing tannic acid and caramel from the scorched wood. He distilled his whiskey in Bourbon County (named in honor of the French who aided the Colonists in the Revolutionary War); hence, the liquor's name.
In the early days, bourbon was sold and shipped to taverns in barrels, accompanied by a few fancified empty bottles. Since the barrels were unsealed, the quality of the whiskey varied depending on whether an unscrupulous middleman had diluted it or substituted one brand for another. Once at the tavern, the liquor was poured into the decanters, which were etched with the distillers' brand name. George Garvin Brown, the founder of Old Forester, is credited with being the first to bottle and seal bourbon in glass in 1870. Soon other distillers followed suit, and Brown's sensible solution established an early form of bourbon quality control.

Bourbon is all-American literally as well as figuratively, for it is decreed by federal law that bourbon may be made only in the United States from a fermented mash of grain containing a minimum of 51 percent corn (though the percentage may run as high as 75 percent) and aged for a minimum of two years in charred oak barrels that may be used only once. Varying percentages of other grains such as rye, barley, and wheat are also allowed. The mysterious changes in color (from clear to amber) and flavor (from raw pungency to smoothness) wrought during bourbon's maturing process are a function of the barrels in which it ages. As the bourbon expands and contracts in and out of the red layer of caramelized wood behind the charred layer, the liquor's taste, bouquet, and rich color develop. The charred oak gives bourbon its color.

Faithful purists drink bourbon neat from a small snifter or tulip glass in the same fashion that an elegant cognac is enjoyed. In concert with other liquids, bourbon is also the pivotal ingredient in a myriad of mixed drinks from Manhattans, old-fashioneds, and whiskey sours to ambrosially festive, highly ceremonial mint juleps that are synonymous with Kentucky Derby time and languid afternoons of dawdling on verandas.

Today there are more than 200 bourbons distilled in the United States.  But cold hearted sales figures, of course, are not the whole story.  It's important to bear in mind that emotions run high among bourbon fans when it comes to their elixir of choice.

Rife with the romance of America's rough-and-tumble past, bourbon has also inspired some rather potent poetics. Bernard DeVoto, in The Hour, described true bourbon as “awaking delight like any great wine with a rich and magical plenitude of overtones and rhymes and resolved dissonances and a contrapuntal succession of fleeting aftertastes." 

In a more earthbound vein, it is said that on an excursion abroad, Mark Twain claimed to customs inspectors that he was traveling only with clothing. As an inspector turned up a carefully cosseted bottle of bourbon from his suitcase, Twain promptly identified it as his "much needed nightcap."

And even our Secretary of State…a much needed nightcap or for courage, she did not say.

Sweet dreams.