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DISH: The Loss of a Peking Duck Partner
The first time I met the man who would become my father-in-law I was nineteen years old, sitting in a Boston hospital room, next to an unconscious boy who had just had knee surgery. We'd had one date, if you could call a night of surfing various fraternity parties during a monstrous rain storm a date. The next day, this young man who I barely knew – but who I knew would be in my future – had torn his posterior cruciate ligament at soccer practice. He was almost immediately scheduled for surgery. Our mutual friend Michael Champlin told me we should visit him. But ever the matchmaker, what he really meant was that I should visit him. And he left me there with Jon's mom Toby, who was eyeing my spiky black hair and pierced cartilage – common for today, but highly unusual in 1987 – when Jon's dad Joel burst in with a quart of fried rice in his hand, talking in his strong Brooklyn accent about the best Peking duck he "eva" had. (The hospital was next to Chinatown.) Jon never woke up that day to see the odd sight of me sitting awkwardly and silently at his bedside while his dad ate fried rice and his mom stared at my rows of earrings and Robert Smith-like hair. But it didn't matter. He'd have plenty of opportunity over the course of the next 34 years to witness our interactions and evolving relationship, from son's girlfriend to daughter-in-law to mother of their cherished grandchildren. Throughout it all, we maintained a couple of constants: love for Chinese food – always "the best eva" – and the absolute need to consume a Peking duck at any given moment. Joel relished a Peking duck more than anyone I've ever known, but Jon, my son Remy, and I could almost match him in fervor. So one night in mid-August, right before Remy returned to school for his junior year, we met up with Joel and Toby to have a really good one. It would turn out to be the last meal we would share together. Joel passed away about 10 days ago, leaving us with an empty seat at the dining table, and emptier hearts. Since then, partly because I've been testing meat thermometers and partly because the kids bought Jon a smoker for Father's Day, Jon has been smoking, roasting, and grilling a lot. Among the more usual suspects of proteins, he's included duck breast in his repertoire twice. He's working his way up to a whole Peking duck. When he gets there, we'll eat it in Joel's honor, and declare it "the best eva."
Comforting One-Pot Chicken With Stuffing (and Apples)
What’s your comfort food? I’m positive something popped into your head immediately. And it probably wasn’t apples. Comfort foods make us feel better by wrapping us in a feeling or a transporting flavor. That’s the privilege of living in a largely wealthy although a highly inequitable country. We can consume foods that bring us comfort and not just sustenance. Nutrition is rarely associated with comfort foods. After a bad day, reaching for a banana doesn’t fill the need quite so much as a bag of chips. Mashed potatoes, pasta, and bread? Well, I think we can agree they satiate where produce cannot. I started to think about comfort foods last week when Jen and Jon lost Jon’s dad, a man who embraced all that was delicious in life. This came just before Yom Kippur, a Jewish holiday where a fast ends for many with a banquet of bagels and lox, something he always relished in concept and content. The idea of comforting oneself with something edible started in the Sixties, but it’s something of an antithesis to how it is perceived today. In a weight loss book, a psychiatrist professed an affinity to tea for self-soothing. That was his comfort. A decade or so later, Liza Minnelli coined the phrase “comfort food” to include what made us daydream about all that is delicious and personal. Today the reputation of comfort food is a lot more naughty than nice. So much comfort was derived from the starches, fats and sweets that far too many of us rediscovered during the pandemic. We can and probably should reel it back a little by now. There are still plenty of other ways to reward ourselves. After all, chicken soup – otherwise known as Jewish penicillin – is one of the great comfort foods of all time. In fact, the soothing warmth of chicken soup hits home in many cultures around the world, as does chicken itself. I make variations of this chicken bake for dinner. It is so flexible I can even vary the temperature without consequence. Sometimes I bake at 375, sometimes 400 to cook it faster. Dark meat is pretty difficult to overcook, especially with some liquid in the pan. Use whatever vegetables you have. 4 chicken legs 4 chicken thighs 1 cup onions, chopped or sliced 2 carrots, chopped 1 long or 2 short celery sticks, chopped 3 cloves garlic, peeled and whole 1 cup chicken or alternative stock, or water 5-6 slices of artisan-style bread, cubed Large apple, peeled and cubed Garlic powder Paprika Kosher salt Preheat the oven to 375. Sprinkle chicken with kosher salt, garlic powder, and paprika all over. (I never measure but no more than a teaspoon or so of salt.) Put all of the chopped vegetables in a roasting pan. Add a cup of stock/liquid and lay the chicken on top. Roast for 45 minutes. Add the bread chunks and the apple. Stir to the best of your ability. Bake in to the oven for 20 minutes until the thigh is 165 degrees. Eat and remember to pull bits of crust from the side. Note: Sage is a nice addition. So is pancetta! Add both or either with the veg if you have them handy.
TILL: Artisanal Mezcal Is a Smoky Complement to Autumn
Naturally, the worst time to launch a new, small-batch spirit is during a pandemic. Or is it? If you're Shirley Leigh-Wood Oakes, CEO/CMO of Sociedad Mezcalera LLC, you can probably make anything work.
Leigh-Wood Oakes, an expert in building brands, and her life partner, Luca Longobardi, first started working on Mezcal Campante at the end of 2019, right when COVID was revving up overseas. Although Leigh-Wood Oakes says she has always traditionally been more of a "tequila girl," she grew an appreciation for mezcal after meeting Longobardi, who really enjoyed its smoky qualities. But some of them can overdo the smoky notes, she felt, making the spirit difficult to enjoy as an everyday drink. Together, she says, "We wanted to find a mezcal to drink all the time, where you could put the bottle in the middle of the table and drink with family and friends however you want to." That's when Longobardi went to Rio Ejutla, Oaxaca, and met José Luis Bustamante, a hotelier who made a private stock of mezcal to serve at his establishment, Hotel Azul de Oaxaca. Leigh-Wood Oakes says thanks to the excellent quality of the mezcal and the immediate "bromance" that sprang up between the two men, Mezcal Campante was born. Produced by Master Mezcalero Raúl Rodríguez Reyes from the piñas, or hearts, of Espadín and Barril agave, two of 14 varieties in the region, Mezcal Campante's flavor is complex. The smoke is balanced by herbal and floral notes on the palate that develop into a lingering citrus, butter, and vanilla. What you don't taste is alcohol. There's no burn or harshness. The problem that Leigh-Wood Oakes and company faced, after tinkering with the formula to get it just right and too many blind tastings to count, was that Mezcal Campante was ready to debut in the U.S. when the virus was still running the show. How to get the word out when bars around the country were closed and people were drinking at home? "We sat back to watch what COVID would do," Leigh-Wood Oakes says in terms of the launch. And then, rather than expecting the market to come to her, she went to them, pouring in liquor stores instead of throwing splashy parties at high-end bars. "People were spending hours at these places, trying brands they never would have picked up before." Certainly that's true – even anecdotally I know enough people who have become bourbon aficionados or turned into gin connoisseurs during this time period to give her line of thinking credence. And so far, the hand-selling has worked. While Mezcal Campante has been on the market only since this past April, already it's selling 800-1200 bottles per month. With every bottle sold comes something else: A piece of sustainability for Oaxaca and for Bustamante, who has five generations of history embedded in the land. It's important to him and his partners to help keep wild agave from becoming even more endangered than it already is, and to give back to the community and the environment. To that end, Leigh-Wood Oakes and crew are growing their own agave to harvest. But they're also "going out and growing agave all over to prevent erosion," she says. "Even if it's not being used, its roots hold the soil together." Sort of the way a bottle of Mezcal Campante in the middle of the table holds a group of friends together – at least until it's empty, and someone has to go out and get another one. Currently available in 750ml bottles at a suggested retail price of $64.99, Mezcal Campante may be found in-store at select retailers or online via the company’s direct-to-consumer e-commerce powered by FullCircle. For additional information please visit the Mezcal Campante website.
DISH: Recap and Coming Soon
Betsy is in the digital and real world teaching culinary, mixology, and floral skills. Fully vaccinated, she's back to planning events, too. You can hire her for both by contacting her at email@example.com.
Jen's recipes for 10 kinds of pasta chips and chocolate pudding pumpkin pie appeared in appeared in AllRecipes.com and Cheryl's Cookies, respectively. Poems were published in The Comstock Review, Equinox, Matter, and River Heron Review. Coming Soon: Jen's developing recipes for Cheryl's Cookies as well as testing kitchen equipment for BobVila.com; watch for several more dessert pieces as well as reviews on meat/grilling thermometers and turkey fryers. A travel piece on Miami Beach will appear on Insider in October. Two food articles, one on caviar and one on a local chef, are forthcoming in Lifestyles South Florida. Poems from her sixth full-length work-in-progress will appear in Aji Magazine, DIALOGIST, Escutcheon Review, K’in, Mom Egg Review, Pirene’s Fountain, Rogue Agent, UCity Review, and The Westchester Review, as well as couple of anthologies, one on the pandemic and one on disabilities.You can hire her for writing by contacting her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit her website at jkaretnick.com.
I'm sending this newsletter from Frankfurt, where we're laying over on our way to Croatia. The concept of international travel, with all that it entails – especially the food – reminded me of this poem.
European Menu Reader
I failed at French with its slippery eel sounds but am willing to be sibilant for bouillabaisse, sarcelle, sabayon. I came late to Spanish though its beat appeals and I can keep basic rhythm to jamón and tortilla, rev it up with spicy zarzuela. In the morning I have ordered pão followed by pökelfleisch for lunch and dinnertime bowls of acquacotta or brodetto simply because I like the sounds, regardless of country or sense, and because I can find them all in one book. With such worldly fluency I speak menu! With what delicious conceit!
You can find this and other food poems in Brie Season (Kelsay Books, 2014).