Sunday, February 24, 2013

Culinary Dispatches from the Subcontinent: Dining with Ford McKenzie in Mumbai

It’s been quite a while since we’ve heard from my college roommate, “Ford McKenzie.”  He’s the guy who introduced me to White Dog whiskey and the pleasures of the protein overdose at the annual Brooklyn Beefsteak.   Ford’s been a radical underground journalist, a world traveler, a high-flier on Wall Street, and has even dabbled in the theater.  Now in his first guest post for Culinary Types, Ford adds successor-to-Anthony Bourdain to his list of creds with this culinary dispatch from Mumbai, India:  

Sunday 1AM:  In the back of a car on my way to the Grand Hyatt. Just landed in Mumbai from Hong Kong. The airport looks like an old bus station. There are people everywhere. Everyone is in motion.  It is like a rugby scrum – I feel like the ball. Every 10 feet someone asks if they can carry my bags for a tip. Warm out and kind of swampy. Thank God the hotel sent me a driver. I am going to sleep dreaming of a week full of real live Indian food.

Sunday 12PM:  In the back of a car headed across town.  On the plane, read an article in the Wall St Journal about Viya in the Oberoi Hotel. It's run by one of the only Michelin-starred Indian chefs in the world. Feel compelled to go. There is something like 25 million people here and no traffic lights. Driving right now is like being on the bumper cars ride in Coney Island.

Sunday 1PM: Viya, first Indian meal. Modern take on chaat, Indian street food. Array of appetizers-too hard to describe. One is a vegetable croquette topped with cardamom ice cream/sorbet in a martini glass-savory, cold, sweet, tastes like perfume, unexpected.  Second course: pot braised chicken with biriyani rice, crispy fried bread strips, potato naan, side of stewed lentils.  Two glasses of Barbaresco.  How can I ever go back to that gloppy stuff  in New York?
Wednesday 5PM: Office brought in a crew of Indians to make real chaat on the balcony after work. Table of bags and plates of raw ingredients, some kind of home-made grill contraption. Made to order: Grilled smashed Indian potato, chick peas, spicy chutney, chopped red onion, and crushed puri (crispy stuff on top).
Thursday 8PM:  At dinner. Don't know where we are, but took  two hours to drive here. Streets were chaos. Indian buffet with open bar. Am drinking a margarita with crushed strawberries.  I tipped one of the waiters 500 rupiahs (about US$10) to guide me through the buffet to the best dishes. Turns out that more than 900 million people in India make less than $10 a day-so now he's treating me like I'm the King of India. I didn't catch his name. I've been calling him Sanjeev. He doesn't seem to mind.

Thursday 9PM:  Sanjeev keeps putting fresh drinks in my hand.  Knee deep into my fourth margarita. He just brought me a bowl of Burmese coconut cream curry soup with long, thin rice noodles, potatoes, vegetables and Burmese spices. Oh my.
Thursday 10PM: I've got a sixth maragarita in front of me. Sanjeev is insisting I try dessert. He's already made me have two incredible chicken dishes, cubed cottage cheese in murgh (paneer) and some tasty vegetable rice. Another bite is going to kill me, but he is relentless.

Thursday 10:15: Jelabis with Rabdi: Flour dough stretched, cut, and fried in rings then dipped in sugar honey glaze topped with lightly sweet, thickened reduced milk with a side of sweet almond ice cream (tastes a little like crispy zepolli) OMG-this is like the best thing I have ever had. Sanjeev is getting me seconds.
Friday 8:30AM: Indian breakfast on the office balcony: Coconut chutney, red chutney, pounded steamed rice cakes and vegetable/tomato sauce. Was a little scared. Didn't think I could eat again after last night, but had to dive in.
Masala dhosas: Indian crepes with spicy potato for the second part of breakfast
The full plate:

Friday 12PM:  Last Indian lunch: Biriyani food: chicken tikka with green chutney, chicken biriyani with spiced curds and spinach kabob. One of the wallas brought me a coca-cola. 
© 2013 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Vintage Spoons For President's Day

Can a spoon teach American history?  Growing up, the dinner hour was family time, but also a moment to learn about our forefathers.  We set our table with these silver-plated Presidents Commemorative Spoon Collection and they were an endless source of fascination for my brothers and me.   
The collection includes 34 spoons each depicting one of the Presidents of the United States – from George Washington to John F. Kennedy.   Grover Cleveland was elected to two separate terms, but was only designed one spoon in the collection.
We believe our maternal grandmother Hilda began collecting the spoons for us, and at some point purchased the whole set.   They were offered through newspaper advertisements at some time during JFK’s presidency, and we all competed to use the spoon of the current president to eat our SpaghettiOs.   It’s amazing how an eating utensil conferred a sort of inside-the-beltway status. 
There is a portrait of each president at the tip of the spoon, and the bowl of the spoon contains a significant event or location connected to that president.   The George Washington spoon includes an etching of his estate on the Potomac, Mount Vernon.

The Abraham Lincoln spoon depicts an excerpt from the Gettysburg Address.  
The back of each spoon handle is labeled for the manufacturer, WM Rogers, and IS for the parent company, International Silver.   

I’m certain the spoons helped inspire a deep interest in American history and the leaders of our country.   Over time, I’ve visited Mount Vernon, Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, and we frequently visited Teddy Roosevelt’s “Summer White House,” Sagamore Hill on Long Island.    I’m hoping to visit the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum during a visit to Springfield, Illinois later this year.  

Incidentally, with a little research, I learned that while we refer to the third Monday in February as “President’s Day” it is legally dubbed “Washington’s Birthday” by the Federal Government.   But, traditionally, the day honors George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and all who have held the office of President of the United States.  

©2013 T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved

Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Blizzard, a Couple of Entrepreneurs and Honey Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread

Some days are just made for baking bread – the morning after winter storm Nemo made his exit, for example.  

Yes, while my neighbors were digging out, I was kneading bread.    Here’s why.
While the Weather Channel was trumpeting the arrival of Nemo, I was wishing hard – wishing that I would get a call from “Jim and Nick Snow Removal.”   Five years ago, just prior to another threatening storm, Jim and Nick left a leaflet in my windshield at the train station.  They were probably just entering junior high school at the time, and I admired their entrepreneurial spirit.  The storm was as bad as predicted and I called them.   They arrived with a SWAT team of workers and in about 30 minutes, they’d disposed of mountains of snow.  

Now, whenever the snow prediction is dire, I get a phone call, and soon after, Jim and Nick arrive.   I fear at some point they’ll go off to college, but so far, their record is impeccable.   Once again, my wish was granted.  This time, it was Jim and Matt.   Like most great business partnerships, perhaps Nick has moved on, but his name remains part of the marquee service.
Sure they’re a little pricey, but I gladly pay it.  Jim and Nick (and Matt) are worth it.  They wrapped the job in about 40 minutes.  It would have taken me at least three hours.  They saved my aching bones, and I feel that I’m contributing to the future success of a team of enterprising young businessmen.  

And, I get to bake bread, which is one of the best things in life – Honey Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread, which will probably be spread with a dollop of apple butter prepared at a recent Restoration Farm canning workshop. 

Even the brilliant red cardinal, shivering atop my back yard tree was happy as Jim and Nick (and Matt) did their magic, bread was baking in the oven and Nemo made his dramatic exit.
© T.W. Barritt All Rights Reserved