When I started cooking in commercial kitchens it was a time of transition in American eating habits. The beef-concentric, ‘more is better,’ dining ethos was shifting to lighter, healthier fare.
I have always felt it started with the health and the organic food movement. In the 1970s, these were becoming less and less a ‘fringe’ lifestyle. Both made their way into the restaurant scene through the cooking of Alice Waters, Jeremy Towers, and Wolfgang Puck – the creators of California Cuisine.
Essentially, these chefs were building on the French Novel Cuisine movement that Paul Bocuse, Alain Chapel, and Jean and Pierre Troisgros, among others, had started a decade earlier.
On a third front, Giuliano Bugialli and Marcella Hazan’s cookbooks of the 1970s were showing the American dining public, and a younger generation of Italian-Americans, that not every Italian dish should be covered in tomato sauce.
Eating healthy and cooking with fresh ingredients was something that many Italian families did not lose when they moved from Italy to America. But these culinary movements helped to bring the authentic cooking of our families to a wider audience, in addition to diversifying menus in countless restaurants.
Salads always played a big part in the tradition, new and old, of eating well.
Over the years my staple salads have changed a lot.
First they were a small course topped with some combination of sliced onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, and alpha or bean sprouts, usually on a romaine and iceberg lettuce combo with a little sliced up endive thrown in. There was a different dressing every week.
Then, sliced apples and radishes with an apple cider and tarragon vinaigrette dressing was the regular. The predominate green was bib with shredded romaine for crunch.
In the later 80s, I rediscovered my Italian roots – combinations of sun-dried tomatoes, olives, capers and shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano found their way onto the table more often than not. It was back to romaine lettuce with radicchio and chicory mixed in. A balsamic and olive oil vinaigrette was the standard dressing.
Occasionally, I would get away from this and use walnut oil, fig vinegar or rice wine vinegar to dress the crumbled Gorgonzola, sliced pairs, walnuts or figs on the bed of spring greens or just arugula.
A few years later I discovered that root vegetables were nature’s vitamin pills. I was getting older and I felt I needed more vitamins than protein.
The salads got larger and root vegetables of every kind landed on top. Some grilled, some raw and a few fried for a crisp finish.
That brings me up to the last few years and my latest version of a salad – greens with crudites on top. In addition to needing more vitamins, I have to work harder at keeping the weight off, even though I walk everyday at lunch, ride my bike after dinner and lift weights. Several days out of the week this big salad and crudites is my meal.
The standard mix is sweet baby peppers, carrots and rutabaga, all cut into large matchsticks and piled on a bed of mixed greens – a combination of above and below the ground. When I can, beet tops are shredded and mixed into the greens. Once in awhile, cracked black pepper, croutons, oil cured or Kalamata olives and sliced figs are mixed into the pile of vegetables.
It always has just balsamic vinegar and olive oil to finish.
One night I marinated the root vegetables in liquid smoke. That was interesting, and I am still working out the flavor details to make a memorable salad with them.
Looking back on all this, what variation is yet to come? Maybe it will include tubers soaked in liquid smoke or one type of leafy green sauteed in oil and garlic, cooled and mixed in with the uncooked greens.
Even with all the thinking I do about food, transitions between comfortable flavor combinations is slow and gradual for me. Must be my Roman Catholic upbringing.
Many of those ideas will not last long in my kitchen as I cook with them and find out what they have to offer.
A cold spring day in the archipelago requires something warm to eat.
Something to bring back good memories as well as fill the stomach.
Chicken, lemon and rosemary; a dish my grandfather made for my mom, my mom made for us, now I make it for my family.
It’s simple, fulfilling and delicious too.
Under the skin of each split breast, slip a clove of garlic that you have crushed with the flat part of your chef knife.
Quarter four smallish Yukon Gold potatoes, along the long side. They should be no more then an inch thick at their widest part.
In a bowl, gentle toss the chicken and potatoes in a few ounces of olive oil.
Lightly brush the bottom of a roasting pan with olive oil. Place the breasts and the potatoes, all skin side up, in the pan.
Slice a lemon in half. Slice two rings off one half. The other piece cut in half and squeeze it on the chicken.
Take two long sprigs of rosemary and strip the leaves off the stem. Chop them well and sprinkle on the chicken and the potatoes. (I left the rosemary off the potatoes because the kids don’t like picking it off.) Season with salt & pepper and top with the two lemon slices.
Cover with foil and bake at 450 until 3/4 done. At that point take the foil off to crisp up the skin of the chicken. Cooking this with a cover keeps it moist. If you want it fully roasted, cook without a cover at 400. If it is getting too crispy, add a few tablespoons of water to the pan and cover with foil.
When you serve it, spoon the juice from the pan over it. Yes, it is full of chicken fat, but that has wounder flavor you won’t want to pass up.
A light white, of any kind pairs well. Even a semi sweet Riesling would work, as long as it has good acid.
Don’t forget the crusty bread to sop up the pan drippings.
Don’t forget to say grace. If we can sit at a table and eat a meal, then we have a lot to thank God for.
The split breast in the photo are large. They made four servings. (Not the best photo but we were in a hurry to eat.)
Other herbs can be mixed in too – thyme or oregano on the stem, chiffonade of basil, bay leaves (fresh if you can get it) broken into large pieces.You can leave the rosemary whole too. If you use whole herbs, let them stay on the chicken for a few hours before it goes in the oven. ( Store wrapped, away from other foods on the bottom self of your refrigerator until time to cook it.)
This is a post to officially announce the launch of my Culinary Language Project. The purpose of this is to create a pictogram based language to describe the flavor of food with out the use of words.
Why a universal language to describe food?
Writing menu descriptions has always been a challenge for me. When I worked in Manhattan, dinners from all over the world read my descriptions. Often times I would have to go to the table and help them order because they could not read English.
There had to be a better way then using sign language and bringing physical ingredient into the dining room to accomplish this.
For many years I thought about solving this problem and finally settled on a wordless language dedicated to food.
There is a lot of work to be done creating this new system but I am up for the challenge.
Working in my office this morning I smelled the aroma of spinach and vegetables sauteed in olive oil. I knew it was my daughter down in the kitchen, making herself lunch for work. She must have been in a hurry. By the time I went downstairs to say good bye she was gone.
I would have never know anyone was in the kitchen, if it was not for that wonderful aroma and the oven mitten on the saute pan.
I had been thinking about Calamara figs from the sun-drenched orchards along the Aegean Sea. Those rings of light brown, wrinkled fruit, tied together with twine had appeared one day in the produce aisle.
They had been haunting me ever since.
When I came back the next day they were gone. I am not the only inhabitant of the archipelago island Peoria craving figs.
No problem. The black Mission figs would do. As I walked over to the aisle I thought about their soft, tar black shapes piled in the bag.
A hint of their darkly sweet flavor grazed over my palate.
My pace quickened.
Back in my kitchen, simple meant stacking one fig on a triangle of pita and topping it with a velvety slice of rich Brie. All ten stacks were put on a white porcelain platter and baked in a hot oven until the brie melted. Just enough to drape over the figs and no more.
Before they went on the table, I drizzled them with wildflower honey that a beekeeper friend had given us.
As I feasted, I marveled at how something so simple could be so fulfilling and delicious.
But was this simple?
Yes, collecting up these four ingrediencies, piling them one atop another, and placing them in the oven for a few minutes was childishly simple.
But the ingrediencies themselves were not.
They were full of complexity in many ways.
The fig’s sophistication comes from its 10,000-year history of human cultivation, longer than any other farm plant. In some strange way, I tasted the wisdom and the work imparted into that fruit from every civilization that had grown it.
What an amazing result from all that history – a soft, subtly sweet interior texture surrounded by a firm, chewy exterior, rich with notes of leather and fermented fruit.
The pita has that long history of perfection, too. Five-thousand years of harvesting the windblown fields of grain and grinding them down to a fine dust under the weight of the mill stone. Countless generations of bakers have worked the flour into dough and transformed it in the charring heat of the wood-burning, brick oven.
Change is inevitable over time, and even the smallest of variations have shifted the dry, grainy character of this ancient bread.
Then there is brie. The youthful, medieval addition to my simple stack of flavors.
What I would give to meet the monks that thought an invisible race of bacteria awash in a universe of cow’s milk could change that bland, white liquid into the essences of rich, soft, smooth and satisfying.
Brie, a magical relic, no doubt, but it cannot compare to what was drizzled on top of it.
The ultimate in strange complexity: the honeybee and its honey.
Who can relate to the mind of the honeybee? They are a different form of life. Their social construct is incomprehensible to us. Hundreds working in an ever-shifting swarm, one on top of another. All born into an exact communal role with work that never changes, never varies.
The geometrical architecture of their home, rows and rows of self-made, hexagonal compartments, is of no comfort to our human personalities. Yet that sticky, viscus, slow motion sugar that they make and store in those tessellated wax-walled chambers is loved by most and known by all.
Honey itself has a multitude of fascinating properties for being something we can eat.
It can crystalize spontaneously and conduct electricity. It is a natural insulator of heat and never freezes solid. When it is motionless it can be firm, when stirred it becomes a liquid. Bacteria cannot grow in honey, and if kept dry, will last for thousands of years.
It is a supersaturated, supercooled, Newtonian liquid that every branch of physical science stands in awe of.
For millions of years, before man even had a thought about cooking, these tiny winged workers had been making this incredible food.
I am happy they did. That detail of added, intense sweetness gave just the right level of complexity to my simple stack of flavors.
Nothing is as simple as it looks at the beginning.
This week we feature three triangle stamps from the 1930 Spanish series commemorating Christopher Columbus. They were created by a team that included the legendary designer and engraver Jose Luis Lopez Sanchez-Toda and were printed using a lithograph process by Waterlow and Sons, England.
These stamps are magnificent and among my favorites! Researching them introduced me to the other thirteen stamps in the series, all equally as impressive in their design and printing.
Toda’s personality was as impressive as the stamps he designed.
At 23 years old, fresh out of design school and the winner of a national design award, he joined the Spanish government’s printing office – Fábrica Nacional de Moneda y Timbre (FNMT). His first position was an apprentice. However, his talent was quickly recognized and he went into training as an engraver. At the age of 29 he worked on the entire issue these stamps are a part of.
For most of his career, Toda was employed at the FNMT, where he was in charge of the engraving department. He was also a professor at the National School of Graphic Arts.
Toda designed and engraved over one hundred stamps, all the FNMT’s bank notes for the year of 1937, and worked on several coin issues.
As always, Happy Collecting !
For more information then I can cram into this post, see the links below.
The focus of my collecting has always been U.S. airmails, embossed envelopes and postcards. However, I took a detour from that when a work associate of mine told me he too collects stamps.
Rui is a topical collector. When he was starting out, his dad suggested this approach as an economical alternative to having a complete collection of one country. His dad is an experienced philatelist who built and maintains a full set of issues from Malawi, a country he once lived in. He knows about the cost involved in an accomplishment of that magnitude.
Early on, Rui settled on a few topics of interest: birds and the Olympics. Over the years, he has increased his circle of interest and built up a sizable collection of his own.
The more I thought about Rui’s approach, the more interested I became. I realized that topical collectors have an international approach which opens them up to the widest possible variety of stamp designs. When I pored over the Scott’s International catalogs at the local library, I found countless stamp designs that were much different than what I saw in my own collection. The more I searched, the more excited I became. Even the rather practical topics like technology, science, manufacturing and shipping were well represented with unique stamps. Not as colorful as birds or dramatic as the Olympics commemorative, but you go with your interests.
I went on many exciting trips to Europe in those months. I visited glass factories making precision lenses for microscopes and telescopes, television studios and busy sea container facilities. I stopped off at a nuclear reactor, a German brewery and did research deep in the earth and high overhead in the exosphere.
Soon, I was overtaken with a feeling of guilt about these trips. All the years of happiness and contentment that my U.S. issues gave me were left behind, abandoned, for the excitement of fresh, foreign faces. I felt like I was cheating on my girlfriend the U.S. Postal Service by purchasing stamps issue from another postal service I hardly knew!
Hat in hand, I went back. We made up, went to philatelic counseling together and all was well again.
To keep the relationship exciting, and so that I would never leave again, I thought about a new area of U.S. stamps I was always curious about but never investigated – errors.
Here, I applied that pearl of wisdom I learned from Roy’s dad: Look for stamps that are affordable as well as interesting.
I found those in perforation errors. These are most common in coil stamps, since these are harder to check than sheets or booklets. Consequently, they are more affordable.
Below are several that I have acquired in the last month, without skipping a week of lunches to pay for them.
This week we feature the American Philatelic Society Souvenir Sheet issues of 1933. This is the first souvenir sheet ever issued by the United States Postal Service. Both were printed to honor the American Philatelic Society for their convention and exhibition in Chicago Illinois. This event was part of the city’s Century of Progress Exposition.
The stamps were printed by the Bureau of Printing and Engraving on a flat plate press. There were two denominations issued. The one cent commemorating Fort Dear Borne, the original site of Chicago, and the three cent commemorated the Federal Building a symbol of the cities progress at the time. Both issues were un-perferated with no gum on the reverse side. However, they were intended to be used as normal postage.
These are unique to U.S. Postal history; this was the first time the post office had marketed an issue specifically for collectors. I have always wondered if the president at the time, stamp collector Franklin D. Roosevelt, created this strategy or did it came out of the post office administration?
The Post Master General over seeing this issue, James A Farley, was an astute business man and certainly knew the value of stamps as a collectable item. The scandal he was responsible for, Farley’s Follies, proved that. For those who may not know, this was big philatelic news at the time. Farley removed from the printing process a complete printer’s sheets of stamp issues. He did this before they were gummed and perforated in order to give them out as autographed souvenirs. Outraged collectors vehemently criticized the post office when they heard about this. To make peace, the post office printed more of Farley’s ‘souvenir’ sheets and offered them for sale.
Since 1933 the post office has issued over thirty nine souvenir sheets.