Last night at dinner La Skolnique said, "You just said back East. You are so going to move out here!"
We protested the harsh indictment. "Don't harsh our buzz, La Skolnique," we said. "Just 'cuz the weather's gnarly and the peeps are mellow, you think--"
"So moving out here!"
Well, it isn't going to happen. No, not to us.
For one thing, our Beautiful Daughter lives back East--we mean, in New York--and so do our brother, our sister-in-law, and our adorable lad nephews, as well as almost every Berrol and Cantor cousin available, and various pals. Not to mention The Old Newman Place and Odilio. Not to mention that our cat Fuzzy is not as young as he once was, and to inroduce him to Monarch Butterflies at his time of life would be unfortunate.
So no, we are not moving any time soon, but if we were younger and looked good in a sunbonnet we would be out of here in a--a Santa Cruz minute.
We mean, we already loved San Francisco, where the way to open any conversation is "Where did you eat?" (In New York, it's "What are YOU looking at?") This year we have discovered Calistoga, a sleepy little place where, if you don't drink wine, all you have to do all day is lie around in a heated mineral spring, watching your toes bob in front of you and lazily wondering if you can fit in a pedicure, and will they come out to the pool to give you one.
You can also do what we did and have a bone-crunching massage from a large, muscular fellow.
The insidious thing is that, what with the swimming, and the fruit, and the massage, and the constant harping, we mean friendly and positive interest, of our California chums, we are feeling better and happier than ever before.
So we find ourself at something of a crossroads. Sure, we love New York, and not just in that heart-on-a-tee-shirt way either. We've lived there for most of our life. But California, with its swaying palms, and Santa Cruz, with its swaying locals, is calling to us. Unfortunately, what it is saying sounds like "Say, girlie-girl, vy don't you come to Caliefornya and make something of your fat, pasty body? Drop und gif me ten!"
We'll have to get back to you.
Our friend La Skolnique had never seen "Mad Men" until this past Sunday. She enjoyed it, despite our breathless narrative ("See that woman? She married the white-haired guy when the red head couldn't even get a ring out of him. Oh wait, sorry, that's actually someone else.")
When it was over she turned to me and said, "What I wanna know is, what were they eating?"
"What were they...?"
"That's right. New York had so much great food then. The dairy restaurants. Little Italy. And this guy lives at Ossining. I've read Gourmet magazines from then. Was he having swell dinner parties with Beef Wellington? Was everyone eating TV dinners? What?"
And so, for the benefit of La Skolnique as well as the rest of you, we will review everything we know and/or have guessed about The Food of Mad Men.
1) Food is status.
Well, of course.
Peggy the newly-promoted copywriter (okay, not so new), may be going back to her secretarial roots and enjoying a burger with a boy in a Brooklyn tavern now, but pretty soon she'll be having a steak with a man at Manny Wolfe's, which is what Smith and Wollensky used to be.
When high-strung Accounts man Pete "Humps the Camel" Campbell throws his young wife's chicken out the window of their Upper East Side co-op, they both know perfectly well that they can get Le Pavillion to send something up; after all, Pete is Old School and his wife is New Money, and they've both been dining there since their teenage years.
Drunk, patrician Roger Sterling assumes that his top Creative, Don Draper, hasn't eaten oysters very often, because Draper's accent betrays a slightly rural twang; Don, who reads attitudes like we read the weather report, neatly turns the table on Roger and shows him up to be an over-indulgent slob by daring him to eat several dozen oysters, oceans of Scotch (not that that's anything new to Roger) and then walking up twenty flights of stairs. The outcome is not pretty but it certainly does make the point of who's the greenhorn and who's the slicker.
At home, Don's beautiful, sociopathic wife Peggy makes "'Round the World" dinner parties with Heinekken beer, Rijstaffel, and, yes Beef Wellington. And, at a children's birthday party, a single mom saves the day by bring in a frozen Sara Lee cake when the bakery birthday cake can't be used; the cake (and the lady) are ridiculed by the other mommies.
2) Food is love.
More about Betty's kitchen, resplendent in its walnut-and-plaid: Not that much good food comes out of it.
Betty herself, anguished at sacrificing her fashion-model figure to yet another pregnancy, treats herself to Melba toast, cottage cheese, cigarettes and Scotch; on a hot night, she has Swedish meatballs or chicken salad waiting at home for Don's late dinner. He's not very interested in food either (Scotch, cigarettes, women and power nourish him so much better), so he just sits down and digs into the bowl of something-or-other without a qualm. Our late Pops, and ad man himself back in the day, would call this the Gentile diet, but it certainly did keep Don and Betty trim. Of course, Betty's withholding food (and love) from herself, Don, and the baby; she also frets that daughter Sally will be plump as a grown woman, and unable to find a man. Certainly Sally needs someone to love her; Grandpa Gene and his chocolate ice cream helped a little, but what will she do when he's gone?
La Skol needs to go to dinner now (we are enjoying the waters in Calistoga, CA) so we'll stop here and continue on the next post.
A hen apron, or saddle, is a device you put on your hens to protect their backs from roosters during mating. When roosters mate with hens, the hens often sustain feather loss and cuts and gashes on their backs and shoulders that can lead to infection, picking, cannibalism and death.
We have never seen it yet to fail: after weeks if not months of planning, we finally get on that plane, travel to that city, check in to that hotel, and collapse on that bed. (We do this when we travel anyplace further away than Red Hook).
Then...usually in the wee small hours of...we wake up. And we lie in that expensive, 400-thread-count bed, deeply regretting everything we've ever one in our life. Especially taking this trip.
Our late Dad shimmers in the ambient air, seeming to ask us: "So you were already going broke at home...why did you have to schlep 3,000 miles, to go broke faster?"
He's right. (No he isn't, but we're in a weakened state). And so, because we don't have anything else to do until morning comes and we can restore the tissue at our (incuded) American breakfast (which means you can make a hog of yourself), we're thinking about Why is This President Different from All Other Presidents.
We don't mean that he's African-American. That's the easy answer.
No, we mean; why do people, a substantial amount of people, not all of whom are institutionalized, question facts about this president, that they would never question about another? His place of birth? Whether or not he just said what he very clearly just said, and what we all heard him say?
Whether or not he has the right to address a joint session of Congress without being insulted?
The fact that Mr. Obama is deprived of these rights is lunatic.
The man won his election, less arguably than some. He had a better background, more appropriate to a President, than most. (Scholar, lawyer, teacher, writer, politician).
He also ran a cleaner race than most, and has behaved in a more presidential manner than any we can remember.
By any measure of logic, he should be given the respect as any other President; and yet he is treated with disrespect of a kind which we have rarely seen in this country.
The kind of disrespect is the important point here. We personally disliked and even hated George W. Bush's effect on this country. We wished for Mr. Cheney's heart, what there was of it, to go pfffft (and before he had so misunderstood the Constitution as to proclaim an Imperial Successor to Mr. Bush. And he could have done it. You know that).
We have, in short, treated all kinds of presidents and vices with disrespect. (We hope you have figured out that in this blog, "disrespect" is not a verb). We were reverent of John F. Kennedy, we personally admired Jimmy Carter, we thought Bill Clinton was hot (we like big guys), but we have made tough comments about everyone else, and, when people made noises about "respect for the office," we snorted.
But "birthers" and screaming congressmen and the sort of people who keep denying the obvious are doing more than insulting the President on a personal level. They are denying his right to be where and who he is. They are negating his existence.
They are, in fact, the Georgia white man staring at the black man's application for Voter Registration and saying, "What's that you have in your hand, boy? I can't make out the words."
They are the Alabama waitress at the lunch counter serving the white man who sits next to the black woman, and thn looking through the black woman as if she doesn't exist.
They are the real estate agent "redlining" a certain neighborhood and ignoring the African-Americans who want to buy homes there, the Madison Avenue shopkeeper who won't let a single black man into his store no matter how much he rings the doorbell, the Boston cabbie who won't pick up a black fare even if there are no white ones.
A long time ago we wrote an essay on racism. Our conclusion was that the practice of racism requires a systematic denial of the obvious. Insanity also requires this, by definition.
So this is what we think is happenning in this country. It's not that the opposition is making fun of Mr. Obama. They are doing far less in that way than people did to Bush the Second (who, after all, is the first President to have a non-sympathetic portrait of himself in a full-length commercial movie while he was still in office.)
They are merely treating him as if he does not exist.
This scares us.
Our first idea on the rude Republican reaction to President Barack Obama's speech on Health Care Reform:
In the British Parliament, it is quite acceptable (and has been practically since Magna Carta) for the opposition to yell disrespectful things during a speech by the Prime Minister.
"Boo!" "No!" and "Fie for shame!" have been typical outburts since Dickens' time and, for all we know, Pitt the Elder.
History and literature do not recall anyone yelling "Your mother wears army boots!" but there's no reason to think it wouldn't be acceptable.
So if we Americans are opening up our Presidential speeches to insta-hissing, no doubt we will soon sink to the very depth and start maligning each other's parentage on the floor of the Senate. Which is something from which even Claude Rains desisted, in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington".
Dear Marc and Steven,
Although you are now only little boys of 5 and 4 respectively, one day you will be grown men wondering what the hell we did with all our money back when we had any.
You may be wondering this as you contemplate your tax returns, or while your sweet young wives ask aloud why they are expected to do Thanksgiving AGAIN this year. Or it may just idly cross your mind one morning as you suck down your desiccated yogurt.
Or maybe Prune Pills.
Yes, boys, food will not be Fun when you grow up. And with graceful change in subject we hope we've shown you that it never does any good to cry after Auntie Annie's money.
In the past forty years, food went from being Tasty to Fun to Lavish to Guilt-inducing. Right now we are all running around like chickens with our heads chopped off, worshiping butchers and not having the least idea what to do next.
Obviously, it will all end in a return to "food as a three-times-daily pill". Many will sigh with relief, and we will go back to measuring status by penis size, as nature intended.
When we and your Daddy were young, dinner parties were given by the ladies of our community, which was actually Valley Stream but everyone called The Five Towns.
The main course tended to be something like Beef Wellington. There were wines, but these were just for show; everyone really drank vodka, except those nancy-boys who preferred scotch. The meal cost 11 times what an ordinary dinner would cost and was generally disrupted by one of the ladies tossing her girdle into the centerpiece, or other early-sixties suburban expressions of glee.
Eventually the Beef Wellington was replaced by fondue, and then the gentlemen would identify their forks by attaching their toupees thereunto. (NOTE: As they used to say in Hollywood, this is a True Historical Incident,)
By this time you will infer that we were in the Fun phase of food development. When not dining at fancy dinner parties, everyone ate Astronaut Food Stix and experimented with placing pineapple on their pizza. It was still considered fun.
This brings us to the 1970's, when your Grandma Berrol started wearing long hand-woven skirts as hostess gowns. (Grandpa Ed kept wearing an ascot and safari jacket a la Stewart Granger, which confused everyone, but hey, it was the dress-as-you-like era.)
Grandma served "hearty peasant fare", also known as beans, tomatoes, and beef shin bones. They were not aways in the same dish, but mostly. Babka was the dessert of choice. Astonishingly, rye bread was now allowed on the "fancy" dinner table, as if 60's Parker House rolls had never been heard of.
Soon Grandma started cooking really good Chinese food and kept on with that for the rest of her life, but that actually isn't very funny so let's look at how Daddy and we entertained our teenage "chums".
Your Dad was quite a host, although he didn't cook so much as bake, and all Hell broke loose one night when Grandpa, lightheaded with hunger after the Yom Kippur fast, found a box of brownies in the fridge and finished them all in a mess of guilty chomping.
Yes, boys, the brownies contained the better part of an ounce of the best weed procurable in Ithaca, New York, and Grandpa did some very funny things after that. And so Dad confined his cookery to salami omelets, with he still smokes up the kitchen once in a while, although for a few months after the brownie debacle he had to go live in Boston and God only knows if he found anything to eat there or not.
Meanwhile, we married Uncle Stupidhead and we were giving dinner parties of our own. It was now the 1980's and someone had given us a copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook, which is what started us thinking about dinner parties in the first place.
True, SP introduced us to plenty of things which now seems banal...brie, balsamic vinegar, sun-dried tomatoes, chicken salad with Tarragon. We personally love these things and eat all of them now as well, but, as much as we liked serving them in the old days, all we really remember is most of the men looking blankly and saying things like "Is there gonna be more food after this?" while the ladies would push the pomegranate seeds under the basil leaves and smile madly as they drank ever-larger G&Ts.
The fact is, and this is what we wanted to explain to you, in our experience there are still many people in the world who will greet the introduction of pesto as "Ewwwww, green slime!" even though Kim Severson of the Times says that it is as out-moded as shoulder pads. And she might think that comfort food is out of style, but we personally have catered too people who think macaroni and cheese with Parmesan (out of a green can) is just a leetle too daring, and they'll have theirs straight from the blue box, if you please.
So how much longer can food prevail, now that the Times has buried and mourned every food discovery and fashion from Julia onwards?
It's time for the prune pills, boys. And we hope you enjoy them.
In the recent mailbag:
i came across your smart take on restaurant reviewers and of course immediately tried to follow you on twitter. not sure what the glitch is, but your link took me to a "doesn't exist" page on the big T. and there are an awful lot o' annie newmans.
am i a techno-dunce?
(enjoyed your blog a lot. of course.)
Regina Schrambling doncherknow...the onetime copyeditor (like us, except at the Times) and editor, now respected food writer and keeper of the angriest, funniest blog in all the foodie kingdom. And she likes us. She really, really--
Oops. We're going to try not to make any lame jokes. No, not no more. And we're going to try not to print up any more pix of the Marx brothers and title them "Bruni, Bourdain and Batali have a confab". Nor will we over-use the Three Stooges, either.( Although, try and convince us that Tom Collichio isn't a complete ringer for Curly. Go ahead, just try.)
It's class all the way, from here on in. Because we want to live up to Ms. Schrambling's good opinion of us. And also because we'd pretty much crumple if Ms. S. took to calling us Little Annie Fannie or New York Blecch or something. Because she does that. When she doesn't like you she makes up a nickname and calls you that.
She calls Frank Bruni "Pancho". We don't know why. But we find it terrifying.
Wait, Annie. Simmah. Remember, she LIKES us. Until we just printed her personal correspondence as part of our public blog. And outed her as a sometime techno-clunk. (Although we're pretty sure it was our programming that caused the problem).
Oh, God. Suppose she comes up with something like, "the Editorial Wee-Wee?"
Quite perfect, we respond rather firmly.
We liked the look of the place--crowded sidewalk resto in front, less crowded candlelit room in back. Mirror-backed bar, various signs referring to monkeys (which is what "Singe" means, and vert means green). Fast-moving black-clad wait staff.
And, on the menu Le Tartare de Boeuf. C'est magnifique!
All right, so you don't eat raw meat. Who asked you to join me? The fact is that Beef Tartar, as it should be served in a French bistro, is a large patty of finely-minced (not ground) uncooked beef, with no gristle and almost no fat. It is mixed with minced shallots, small capers, mustard, pepper, conichons, and the yolk of a quail egg.
On the side are perfect shoestring french fries and a somewhat bland, walnut-oil-dressed salad of baby greens.
For us, because we can't drink alcohol, it is accompanies by a nice mineral-y sparkling water. Badoit is good. So is San Pellegrino.
Le Singe Vert resides at 160 Seventh Ave and can be reached at 212-366-4100. It is right around the corner from our Chelsea apartment, so we'll be back to tell you about the cheese platter, the tarte tatin, and the frisee aux lardons. All of which are exactly what a nice bistro should serve.
It's a sweet little place. You might like it; go there if you can.