Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The World of Coca-Cola

Here’s my first disclaimer: there’s not a lot of culinary insight in this post.

Here’s my second disclaimer: I am not a big consumer of soft drinks. Long ago I decided I wanted to stick to completely natural beverages. That means, water, orange juice, coffee and red wine. The closest I come to drinking carbonated beverages is Veuve Cliquot.

But, I am a fan of food and beverage history – and particularly enamored of iconic products and their strange, hypnotic ability to permeate our society. That’s probably why I find myself compelled to visit the newly-opened World of Coca-Cola, a glistening shrine to soda pop in the heart of the Deep South.

Maybe it’s my recent journey through the land of the soft-drink cake gateau and my dalliance with the classic Coca-Cola Cake. Maybe it’s because I’m spending a couple of days in Atlanta, the ancestral home of Coke. The advertising is everywhere. The whole Coca-Cola thing becomes subliminal after a point. I even put on a bright red polo shirt this morning. The Real Thing is even more real in Atlanta. The bubbles – even the subliminal bubbles – are just intoxicating.

I am already dripping with sweat as I approach the glossy big-box World of Coca-Cola at Pemberton Place in downtown Atlanta. The 90 foot tower that holds a giant Coca-Cola Bottle catches my eye.

People move slower in Atlanta. Maybe it’s the perennial steam bath that cloaks the city. They’re also excessively friendly. As I stand in the entrance hall of this temple of the magic of effervescent marketing, surrounded by soft drink memorabilia, the archivist for Coca-Cola says “Have a peachy day!”


It reminds me of a visit to the World’s Fair or Epcot Center. I am bombarded with the international relevance of the most popular soft drink on the planet. Who would have thought that a little caramel-colored liquid could have such global impact?

We are greeted in the hub of the pavilion by a bubbly Coca-Cola “ambassador” who explains the layout of the exhibits. The minute the ambassador concludes her speech, two thirds of the crowd make a mad dash for the “Taste It” room which features floor-to-ceiling dispensers for each continent offering nearly 70 different varieties of soft drinks. I quickly edge my way in, as I fear the rampaging crowd will suck the place dry. It’s free pop after all. It is interesting to note the flavor profiles for different countries. The soft drinks range from spicy in Asia to excessively sweet in North America. The Europe spigot features a brand called “Beverly” from Italy, which tastes like Red Hot candies. The Africa spigot offers sodas flavored with pineapple and kiwi. There is bubbly black currant and “Sunfill Mint” from Africa which tastes a little like carbonated Scope Mouthwash. Yet, it is not unappealing.

In the “Milestones of Refreshment” Hall, ten galleries are crowded with Coke artifacts. There’s a bronze statue of John Pemberton, the man who created Coca-Cola in 1886, an old fashioned soda fountain, similar to Jacobs Pharmacy where Coke was first introduced in Atlanta, and a variety of red and white Coke dispensers. In the “Pop Culture” Gallery, there are Andy Warhol prints and even the classic holiday advertising that featured Jolly Old Saint Nicholas and redefined our world view of Christmas and Santa Claus.

I stroll through “Bottle Works,” the smallest Coca-Cola Bottling plant in the world. As one ambassador tells me, it’s the real thing, “but condensed.” The plant produces 20 bottles a minute. I learn that water is the main ingredient and C02 makes the bubbles, but the secret formula for the syrup remains closely guarded to this day.

I pass by bottles of every shape and advertising in every language of the world. It’s all starting to feel more important than the daily proceedings at the United Nations, so I head for the Coca-Cola store. This is about capitalism, after all.

One tee-shirt later, and with my just-capped souvenir bottle of Coke straight from the bottling line in hand, I am ready to go out and teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.

I exit the complex feeling just a little bit brainwashed and slightly over-carbonated, imagining a destination called “The World of Hostess Twinkies,” where international visitors are greeted by life-sized versions of Twinkie the Kid and burrow through an endless tunnel of frothy vanilla whipped cream.
I'd buy a ticket in a heartbeat.

©2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Summer Picnic at Wave Hill

The Metro North Train hugs the bank of the Hudson River, winding dramatically between the craggy rocks of the Palisades.

It is one of the first days of summer, and it is a glorious one – azure blue sky, wispy cottony clouds and cool breezes.

I disembark at the Riverdale Station and begin the steep climb away from the station and the river pass stately homes – some which have seen better days – towards my destination.

Wave Hill, a public garden and cultural center, sits high on the banks of the Hudson River. It is the former “country home” of William Lewis Morris, built in 1843 and was visited by such luminaries as Charles Darwin, Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt and Arturo Toscanini. In 1960, the grounds were deeded to the City of New York.

My knapsack is packed with a garden fresh picnic lunch. I am determined to prepare more fresh food and eat it outside this summer. I’ve never visited Wave Hill and it seems like the perfect setting.

A blanket of green welcomes me as I enter the estate. The Great Lawn offers expansive views of the Hudson River and the Palisades on the New Jersey side. The Conservatory is wrapped by a charming garden of brilliantly-colored, delicate summer blossoms. The Herb Garden offers such wonders as purple basil, delicate leeks and feathery fronds of fennel. Edible herbs, healing herbs and ornamentals spill from the stone walls.

I stroll through the Arbor Woodland under cool shade trees. Once clear open fields, the caretakers are allowing the Woodland to return to its natural state.

As the noon hour draws near, I settle in a sunny spot at a cluster of jade green picnic tables with smart matching umbrellas, and unpack my portable feast. I dine on French Lentil Salad, perfumed with shallots, sherry vinegar and tarragon, and pencil-thin asparagus coated in a lemon vinaigrette. The petite brown-green Puy lentils once grew in volcanic soil in Velay France. The terroir taste is earthy with the sweet accent of tarragon. The delicate asparagus glisten in the sun, bursting with green life. It is a delicacy of summer, as is this day at Wave Hill.

For more of the glorious gardens, fragrant herbs and majestic trees of Wave Hill, click below.

© 2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Coca-Cola Cake and a Smile from 1971

He enters the door of the boxy pale-blue Levitt ranch house at exactly 7:45 p.m., and remembers that He has to trim the overgrown hedge this coming weekend. He rakes his fingers through his sandy gray hair, sheds his navy blue Brooks Brothers suit jacket and slips into his soft, tan cardigan sweater. She had long ago stitched oval patches over each elbow to repair the thread-bare wool.

He feels a bit weary. He’ll have to work late into the night in order to deliver the mid-week reforecast to Mr. P in Finance.

He hears Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water” blasting on the stereo in Johnny’s bedroom.

JOHNNY!” He shouts at the top of his lungs. “TURN THAT STEREO DOWN!”

The music abruptly stops. A door slams and Johnny appears in the hallway.

“Where are you going?” He asks Johnny.

“There’s a candlelight peace rally at the park. Mom said I could go. We’re sending Nixon a message. Make peace, not war!”

“Did you finish your homework?”

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Johnny replies rushing through the foyer. “And, don’t go in my room,” he mutters as he slams the front door behind him.

He really wished that Johnny would get a proper haircut.

In the kitchen, on the olive green refrigerator door, there is a handwritten note affixed with a magnet in the shape of a bright yellow Smiley Face. The note says: Working Late. Swanson Dinners in the Freezer. Be home after 9. XXXOOO.

He sighs. It seems like She is never home anymore. She is always working. At least She could have made a Crock-Pot dinner …

Little Susie is at the stove. She is removing two foil-covered trays from the oven using a pot holder. He didn’t know why He still thinks of her as “little.” She is so grown up now.

“We’re having TV dinners,” Susie announces. She takes the silver foil off each tray releasing a rush of steam. He sees slices of turkey, an apple cobbler, and a dollop of grayish whipped potatoes in each tray.

They sit down to eat. The TV that sits on the kitchen counter is on. The program is Family Affair on CBS. A commercial appears. There is a crowd of Flower Children on a hilltop, and they are singing.

“I’d like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony …”

“There’s that jingle again,” He says. “It’s on TV constantly, and now it’s going to be in my head all night.”

“I’d like to buy the world a Coke, and keep it company.”

“Can we turn off the TV?” He asks. Susie obliges.

“Daddy, I have a surprise,” Susie declares. “I made Coca-Cola Cake in Home Economics class today. We’re having it for dessert!”

“A cake made from soda pop? Where do you get these ideas?” He asks, slightly perplexed.

“Our teacher says a lady in Atlanta made the recipe, because she loved the taste of Coca-Cola so much,” says Susie. “My teacher says I have talent, too, and I should go to cooking school to become a chef.”

“Aren’t chef’s usually men?”

“Daddy! Don’t you watch television? What about Julia Child??? She’s a woman!”

He shrugs. He was always saying the wrong thing to the younger generation.

“Coca-Cola Cake is groovy, Daddy. There’s also a Fresca Cake with Maraschino Frosting, and a Pepsi-Cola Cake with Broiled Peanut Butter Frosting. I want to make them all!”

He makes a mental note to look into exactly what they are teaching in that Home Economics class.

Susie cuts two squares of the Coca-Cola Cake from a rectangular pan, and brings them to the table.

He takes a bite. The glossy blanket of chocolate frosting conceals a moist, fudge-colored cake studded with tiny marshmallows. The luxuriously sweet caramel flavor dances on his tongue. It is a bit like Devils Food Cake with a little extra kick.

Susie takes a deep breath. “Daddy, can I go see “The Last Picture Show” at the multiplex tonight?

“Susie. “The Last Picture Show” is rated R. I don’t think so.”

“But Dad, all the kids are going!”

“I don’t care what all the other kids are doing. You’ll follow my rules as long as you are living in this house.”

Susie looks dejected and He feels like a bit of an ogre. Why did every conversation with the kids turn into a battle?

He lifts Susie’s chin and tries again. “If you’d like, I’ll take you to Pathmark later and we can get the ingredients for that Fresca Cake,” He suggests. “I’ll even help you make it. You can teach your old man how to be a baker.”

The corners of Susie’s mouth turn up. She seems intrigued by the idea. “Okay,” she says slowly, “but you’ll have to do what I tell you and measure all the ingredients very carefully. And don’t make a mess.”

Susie is a lot like her mother in so many ways.

He smiles. Maybe it’s the bubbly optimism of the Coca-Cola Cake, the mini-marshmallows or the ridiculous grin on that canary-yellow Smiley Face. Or maybe, just the realization that life is never stagnant or flat. At least it shouldn’t be.

He suspects that He will probably look pretty ridiculous in one of those kitchen aprons that She always uses, but it might be good to learn a few skills in the kitchen.

And, it would be nice to spend a little extra time with Susie before she heads off to cooking school to become a famous chef.

Inspired by the Old Foodie.

©2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Beer and Wursting in Bavaria

Last week, a colleague -- whom we’ll call “Hal2001” – and I were drinking very ordinary beers during a Friday afternoon company function.

“You’re going to Munich?” says Hal2001 with interest. “You should visit the Hofbrau House and write about it. Most people go for the beer, but you could write about the food.”

I find the suggestion a brilliant antidote to too-much-time-recently-spent-in-Manhattan.

Indeed, he actually sparks a distant memory, and I have a vague recollection of visiting the renowned Munich beer hall with my cousin in the mid-1980, where oom-pah music fills the cavernous hall, and waitresses build their muscles by lifting three or more gallon-sized beer steins in each hand.

Hal2001’s suggestion has given the whole trip new meaning. I’ll do it! Hanging out with a bunch of drunken American tourists in Munich and eating wurst has got to be a step up from current developments. With meticulous Internet research in hand, I head for Munich, in the heart of Bavaria.

I arrive after a long flight delay and announce to my German colleagues that I’ll be visiting the Hofbrau House. They are scrupulously polite, but eye me skeptically.

“You know that’s for the tourists,” says D. Several colleagues just nod sadly in unison.

My cheeks turn scarlet. I’ve committed the ultimate faux pas and admitted to the locals that I might actually choose to visit a tourist trap.

They try desperately to redirect me. “You should go to the Weisses Brauhuas,” suggests D. “It’s authentic Bavarian.” We find a map, he circles the location and writes down the address. I glance in his direction, and suspect that he has just rolled his eyes, as if there’s nothing more he can do for me.

Several days of honest work pass, and I am torn. I want to honor Hal2001’s suggestion, but I’m not sure I can withstand the scorn of my Munich colleagues. So, I do the next best thing.

I visit both.

The storm clouds have parted as I head towards the Munich City Center in late afternoon. The temperature has soared above 80 degrees and the sky is azure blue. The entire population of Munich seems to be on the streets or relaxing in an outdoor café enjoying a beer.

Having now confirmed my suspicion that there is no German Chocolate Cake in Germany, I make my way to the historic Hofbrau House on the far side of Marienplatz, located on a cobblestone pedestrian square on Am Platzl. The current site was established by Maximillian I in 1607. Hey, it’s the 400th anniversary, so there’s also a reason to celebrate! The building is bright white with expansive windows and blue lettering and flags beckoning the faithful. Apparently, I am not the first famous visitor. Mozart spent a lot of time at the Hofbrau House in 1780, as did Josephine Baker in the roaring twenties.

I enter and immediately detect the heady smell of yeast. There’s not much activity inside – just a large group of docile Japanese tourists and one old guy in a traditional Bavarian costume. I continue through the hall, past rows of enormous mugs, to the outdoor garden where many more of the patrons have decided to relax under a grove of ancient shade trees. There is a fountain with a pool at the center. I take a table under the thick, leafy canopy that affords me the best view and order a Hofbrau Original.

I notice several things immediately. There is no oom-pah band and the legendary buxom barmaids have been replaced by an all-male team wearing white shirts and trim black vests. What has become of equal opportunity?

My waiter brings me a huge glass mug about eight inches tall filled with dramatic amber liquid and foam. It looks like about 400 ounces for each of the 400 years. There is a Royal Blue Hofbrau House emblem on the glass. The brew is smooth, rich and yeasty, and I willingly succumb to the essence of Munich. On the far side of the garden, a photographer is taking shots of a group of rather thin women in Bavarian costumes cavorting with young male customers. The rest of the crowd is primarily tourists, tee-shirts and digital cameras.

The waiters don’t appear particularly skillful, although I do catch a glimpse of one doing a three-handed delivery of beer to a table. Later, I spy a six-handed delivery – two dark ales and four regulars. I almost toss him a EURO.

As for the food, it looks, well – ordinary. I hate to disappoint Hal2001, but nothing I see is tickling my appetite. There are plates of pale sausage, narrow slices of wheat bread, yellow potatoes, ice burg lettuce salads and some guy to my right is tackling a massive boiled meat thing. So, I opt to stick with my Hofbrau House anniversary cocktail, bask in the warm afternoon sun, and embrace the spirit of Bavaria.

As I leave, slightly more spirited than when I arrived, the buxom waitresses appear to be coming on shift and the oom-pah band is tuning up in the main hall.

It is now time for sustenance in the form of food, so I walk the short distance to Weisses Brauhaus, or “The White Brewing House,” at 7 Tal. As you might have guessed, this building, too, is white and is doing a brisk, early evening business. Here, there are plenty of waitresses dressed in severe black dresses, and they’ve got attitude. After I wait a few minutes to be noticed, an authoritative middle-aged blonde banishes me to the second floor dining area.

I climb the steep landing and take a seat at a small table and bench that resembles what one might find in a hunting lodge. The hot room is jammed with tourists, mostly Americans, and I resign myself to the fact that we seem to be attracted to beer and travel in packs.

My formidable waitress stares at me through black glasses perched on the end of her nose. I request an English menu and she haughtily complies. I am a bit at a loss to provide any history on the Weisses Brauhaus. Even within the English menu, the history of the establishment is offered in German. There is quite a selection of Bavarian entrees and small dishes. I decide to forgo the category of entrees titled “Best Parts of Offal.” Instead, I ask for the soup with spaetzel. “We have no more,” the waitress snaps at me. So I settle for the potato soup with marjoram and the Brauhause Butcher Platter. While I wait for the order, I amuse myself with another (smaller) beer and a basket of soft pretzels and a ceramic crock of dark, sweet grainy mustard. The beer is milder, a bit like a dry white wine.

The potato soup is a beautiful sight. It is creamy and appears to glisten with rays of golden sunshine. There is a fresh sprinkling of parsley and the deep herbaceous flavor of marjoram. The aroma of potato far is more satisfying than anything I’ve experienced in terms of spuds in a while. Halfway through my soup, the room clears. Obviously, this group had to catch a bus to their next destination. I am now alone, me and my battle-scared waitress.

The Brauhause Butcher Platter comes with six plump grilled sausage, two potatoes and a bed of tangy sauerkraut. Three of the sausages are dark and meaty and of different diameters. Three of the sausages are milky white, the famous White Sausage of Munich. The dark sausages are taut and smoky. The white sausages are supple, tender and seasoned with fresh herbs. I make a mental note to thank D for the recommendation.

My waitress takes note of the fact that I can’t quite finish my last sausage and the remains of potato. She asks me if I want a second beer. When I decline, I think she actually smiles at me.

I leave having consumed my quota of meat and beer for the month, convinced that I will have to pay an extra freight charge at the airport in order to get myself home in the morning.

©2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Double-Good Macaroni and Cheese

“Double” is always good, right?

Twice the quantity. Twice the value. Twice the payoff. Twice the results.

Double Play. Double Header. Double Feature. Double Scoop. Daily Double.

Double or Nothing. Double Entendre. Double Indemnity. Double Agent. Double Life. Double Cross.

Okay, maybe I should stop now.

But, consider a double helping of cheese? How can that be bad?

By special request, I present Double-Good Macaroni and Cheese, perhaps my favorite dish of all time. Mom probably clipped the recipe for Double-Good Macaroni and Cheese from a women’s magazine when I was in high school. For those of us who grew up on suburban Long Island, smack in the center of the Casserole Corridor, Double-Good Macaroni and Cheese was ambrosia and truly the food of the gods.

For my brothers and me, it was perhaps our most requested meal, and one that I often helped prepare in my formative years. Double-Good Macaroni and Cheese meant an unusual combination of two kinds of cheese. We loved the way the sharp golden cheddar cheese contrasted the firm, creamy white curds of cottage cheese, of all things. A touch of grated onion gave the dish some unexpected bite and sour cream added extra tang. In the days before low-carb diets were invented, it was like heaven multiplied by two. We were fascinated by the way our engineer Dad cut the toothsome casserole into geometrically-precise squares, much like a slice of lasagna. As I recall, he also sliced cartoon ice cream into neat rectangles, a habit acquired by having to dole out economically-equal portions for a family of six.

At a recent reunion of the entire family, Mom prepared Double-Good Macaroni and Cheese knowing quite well that it would fill our stomachs and feed our appetites for nostalgia. And, she made two pans-full! We all did a double-take!

For a pot luck dinner party a while back, I embellished the classic casserole with crunchy Panko breadcrumbs (top photo). When it comes to fine culinary techniques and comfort food, I am rumored to maintain a double identity.

Now, let’s look at the possible historic connections, because you know I love old stories, and you must know that Macaroni and Cheese is just brimming with history.

Many people don’t know that Thomas Jefferson, our gourmet president, introduced a macaroni machine to the United States in the late 18th century. This has led to the perception by many that the inventive Jefferson created the Macaroni and Cheese dish. While this fact is often debated among culinary scholars, there are a number of recipes for the dish attributed to Jefferson and thought to have been served at his hilltop Virginia home, Monticello.

The famous – and some might say infamous – Kraft Macaroni and Cheese Dinner was introduced by the food manufacturer in 1937. The deluxe version with the can of Velveeta cheese sauce included was a convenient one-pot dinner and considered fine dining during my university days.

We must also review the crucial historic impact of double-ness. Actress Patty Duke played identical cousins on American TV in the 1960s that were double-the-trouble, and suburban sorceress Samantha would often prepare a double martini for husband Darrin on “Bewitched” usually after her mother Endora had turned him into a mule. Let’s not forget Sam’s wacky twin cousin Serena. When they were together, people thought they were seeing double.

Not a lot of people can make references to macaroni and cheese, Thomas Jefferson, Patty Duke and “Bewitched” work together in the same context.

But, enough of all this double-talk. Don’t we get plenty of that all week? You want the recipe, right?

Double-Good Macaroni and Cheese

Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes.
Makes 8 servings.

8 ounces uncooked elbow macaroni
1 container (1 pound) cream-style cottage cheese
¾ cup dairy sour cream
1 egg slightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons grated onion
1 package (8 ounces) sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded

Cook macaroni following label directions. Drain.
Combine cottage cheese, sour cream, egg, salt, pepper, onion and cheddar cheese in a large bowl; mix lightly until blended; fold in macaroni.
Spoon into greased 9x9x2 baking dish.
Bake in moderate oven at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes or until bubbly.

©2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Assets in the Kitchen

Chef Juan Pablo Chavez did what many of us only dream of. He ditched his corporate job to become a chef and pursue his passion for food.

I’m standing in his well-stocked kitchen in upper-Manhattan. Chef Juan Pablo is a solidly-built, animated man with a broad smile. He is slicing vegetables precisely with a swift, smooth motion and preparing them for blanching. He is assembling Chicken Mole Verde, which simply put, is chicken with green sauce, a family-style dish that would likely be served in his native home of Mexico City.

Shimmering tomatillos, green beans and zucchini are plunged into the salted boiling water. Chef Juan Pablo explains that the water must be generously salted so that the vegetables absorb the flavor. Chicken thighs are poaching on another burner.

The bright, lively ingredients are a metaphor for how the former economist has re-invented his career. What prompted someone schooled in capitalism and educated at the London School of Economics, to trade the classic guns and butter business model for Plugra European-style butter and a chef’s knife? It is a story of self-actualization.

“I have always had a big passion for cooking but have never had the guts to give it a go and make a career out of it,” he explains. “After close to 10 years in the corporate world, I decided I had to prove to myself that there was no reason not to give it a try.”

Chef Juan Pablo says the decisive moment happened quickly, and was even a little scary.

“While I had been considering it for a long time and discussing it with my partner, I decided to start taking the chef courses on the weekends, while still working. I think that once I signed up for the course, I already knew that it was a done deal and just a matter of time before I stopped working in the corporate world. It was scary due to the obvious unknowns at the time, the perception that my income would suffer severely on the short-term and that of course there was no guarantee of success.”

He studied at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York with on-the-job training at Manhattan culinary meccas Per Se and Le Bernardin and consulting with Whole Foods. Following training, Chef Juan Pablo founded Healthy Meals JPC, a business that offers personal chef services and healthy meals for gourmet tastes. Sort of a culinary road warrior, he goes right to the kitchens of families in New York City to prepare fresh meals and customized menus. His repertoire includes such enticements as Chilean Sea Bass and Grilled Mango Salsa, Butternut Squash Kasha Salad, and Lemon Tiramisu.

“I wanted to be a freelancer rather than be enslaved by working for a long period at a restaurant,” he explains. “Being my own boss, and mixing that with creating high quality food for people that appreciate it was the primary reason. It also provides a far wider range of business opportunities than the narrowly defined restaurant business and the relationship with the clients is far more personal and rewarding.”

I am curious to know what life as a business-owner and chef offers that his former career in economics did not.

“It is hard to say that this career offers me something that the other did not,” he says. “I love economics and still do, but after a time, I guess it turned less challenging, at least in the banking environment that I was in. Of course, the new career would be a challenge in many ways, not the least a physical one due to the stamina needed to cook around the clock. It also allows me to see in a very close way the efforts of my work. When cooking, one knows whether the result is good or not right after preparing any dish!"

I can relate. I press on. What are the most dramatic differences between the corporate world and life as a chef? He offers up a list:

“Very different schedules. The use of very different skills, more physical than intellectual. A lot more interaction with people of all different walks of life. The cozy world of a corporate world is miles away from the daily uncertainty of work as a chef.”

So, if you’re feeling the lure of a career in the kitchen, what’s Chef Juan Pablo’s advice?

“Discuss a lot about the issue with your loved ones as they will clearly be affected. Don't be afraid! It may sound too typical, but you must follow a professional course, perhaps part-time while still working at your other profession, and do plenty of trails in restaurants to get a better grasp of what it will entail.”

This particular evening we will sample, not only Chef’s Chicken Mole Verde, but a fresh fruit terrine of red and blue summer berries and rose wine. Chef Juan Pablo specializes in healthy ingredients and ingenious color and flavor combinations. I ask where he gets his inspiration for new recipes.

“Absolutely everything around me,” he says. “It may sometimes be a movie, a TV show, a special date like Cinco de Mayo or July 4th or a diet I may be following. I have even come up with recipes for people with special needs, like diabetics, that need not apply exclusively to them and can be very tasty. Of course, I look for inspiration from seasonal produce, as well.”

Chef Juan Pablo gathers hefty handfuls of fresh green herbs – parsley, mint, cilantro and chives – and adds them to a blender with some of the poaching broth. The ingredients in the blender swirl into an emerald whirlpool. He removes the cover, and pours the Mole Verde over the warm chicken and vegetables. I inhale the intoxicating, remarkably fresh fragrance of a kitchen garden on a warm spring day.

You sure don’t get that kind of aroma from an economic forecast.

©2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Fabulous Fifties German Chocolate Cake

He walks through the door of the boxy pale-blue Levitt ranch house at exactly 6:25 p.m. He hangs his Fedora on the hat stand, sheds his gray flannel suit jacket and slips into a soft, tan cardigan sweater.

“Honey, I’m home,” He intones.

She smoothes her auburn hair, straightens her pearl choker, and pushes through the green swing-door from the kitchen into the dining room carrying a cocktail shaker and glass.

She brushes her perfectly-lined crimson lips against his right cheek. “Hello, Sweetheart! How was your day?”

“It was another tough one,” He groans. “Mr. P in Finance is really after me for that quarterly forecast.”

“Well, you just leave that all behind you,” She purrs reassuringly, running her lacquered fingernails through his sandy flat-top. “Here’s your martini, just the way you like it.”

“You’re so good to me. And, I love your classy chassis,” He says, placing a hand firmly on her left hip.

“You just relax, sweetheart,” She says, leading him to his chair at the head of the dining room table. She places a Pat Boone LP on the turntable and adjusts the volume on the hi-fi.

“We’re eating International tonight,” She announces brightly. “I’ve made Beef Stroganoff, Tomato Aspic, Petite Pois and for dessert, German Chocolate Cake!”

“Honey, I don’t know how you manage to put such a fantastic meal on the table every night, what with keeping house, grocery shopping and community activities?”

“I clipped all of the recipes from the food pages in the newspaper,” She replies. “This menu is called Haute Cuisine.”

He spots the majestic three-layer cake on the side board. It is an impressive creation. “German Chocolate Cake? Is that a European recipe?” He asks.

“I’m sure it must be,” She replies. “According to the newspaper, it’s all the rage. It was a snap for me to whip up after my circle meeting this afternoon. I used a bar of that wonderful Baker’s German’s Brand Sweet Chocolate.”

“What a kick!” He smiles.

“It was simple. I used fresh eggs, Crisco and buttermilk for that special tangy flavor. The filling was so easy, too. Would you believe something this elegant was made from coconut, pecans and Evaporated Milk?”

“Honey, you are the most in the kitchen!”

The meal is exceptional. He enjoys two helpings of the Beef Stroganoff. He takes a bite of the velvety cake and relishes the taste of the mellow chocolate, sweet coconut filling and crunchy pecans. All is right with the world. “Oh, Honey, you’ve outdone yourself. This is unreal!”

“Thank you, Sweetheart.” She smiles. “Now, there’s something I want to ask you.”

“Yes, dear?’

“There’s a job available at Gimbels Department Store at the cosmetics counter. It’s only three days a week, but I’d love to get out the house a bit, and with the extra money, we could buy that new Frigidaire for the kitchen.”

He pauses, his cake fork in midair. A flake of coconut drops to the sleeve of his cardigan sweater, the icing leaving a slight stain.

For just a moment, the grinding of His teeth is almost audible and the tips of his ears color ever-so-slightly. Then He smiles.

“Honey, are you trying to rattle my cage? If you went to work, who would make these wonderful dinners?”

She purses her crimson lips and takes a deep breath. She reaches for the cake knife and grips the handle purposefully. The moment seems like an eternity as she considers her next move.

Why ruin a perfectly good meal with a domestic spat? He would never know if She worked outside the home for just a couple of hours each week. And, it would be fun to have a little pin money. All He really cared about was having homemade cake for dessert. Thank heaven for convenience products. He would never be the wiser if she substituted one of those new Betty Crocker Cake Mixes from time-to-time. It would be easy to pull off.

She smiles brilliantly. It is a dazzling, Pepsodent smile.

“Forget I mentioned it, Sweetheart,” She says, slicing the blade sharply through the layers. “Have another piece of German Chocolate Cake.”

On the hi-fi, Pat Boone is crooning his 1957 chart topper “Don’t Forbid Me” …

Inspired by The Old Foodie.

© 2007 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved