My Old Kentucky Homesite

Archive for the ‘Food and Drink’ Category

No Wonder Tso Outranks Sanders

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 01/04/2010

I don’t like poultry. Usually, the only ways I’ll even consider eating it are if it’s (1) hidden under tons of gravy and stuffing, (2) covered by a slab of parmesan and a couple of ladles-worth of tomato sauce, or (3) “buffalo”-spiced with a bleu cheese dip. And I’ll make no bones about the fact that it must be fileted. Even under those circumstances, there’s still gotta be some decent wine or beer to wash it down.

So it came as a big surprise to my wife yesterday when she said “Let’s do fast food tonight,” and I suggested that we ought to at least once try the state’s signature dish.

“And what’s that?” she asked.

“Kentucky Fried Chicken. From Kentucky. Kentucky Kentucky Fried Chicken. Or, if you’re too lazy to pronounce actual English words: KKFC. That’s not to be confused with KKKFC, which doesn’t serve anything but white meat.”

“Very funny. You hate chicken,” my wife said.

“But it’s the only food with Kentucky in it’s name,” I answered.

“What about bourbon?”

“Bourbon’s not a food. Well, maybe it is here. But I was thinking of something you actually put on a plate.”

She shook her head in disbelief. “Do you mean to tell me that you’d eat Kentucky Fried Chicken but you won’t eat the chicken that I make? Aren’t I from Kentucky?”

She had me there. However: “Yeah, but you never said that your chicken was Kentucky-fried. Anyway, you’re not a colonel. And you don’t offer me a choice of sides.”

“You’re sure that’s what you want? We could get Chinese takeout, or pick up baba ganoush at the Middle Eastern place.”

I was adamant. “Asian? We’re gonna take our palates halfway around the world? I’ve been living in Fayette County for three months now, and I’m finally in the mood for some local cuisine.”

Eventually, I prevailed. Sad to say, though, the Kentucky Kentucky Fried Chicken I bought in Lexington was no different than anyone else’s defrosted fried fowl. It was greasy, but tasteless. In fact, I think I enjoyed it more when I had it last, nearly forty years ago on a weekend visit to Massachusetts. I’m pretty sure that yesterday’s mashed potato gravy was left over from then. The quality of the food made me want to do something with my finger, but not lickin’.

My wife noticed me making faces during my meal. “I knew you wouldn’t like it,” she said.

“Is it conceivable that the Kentucky Fried Chicken made in New England is better than the stuff made here?”

“It’s a national chain. It’s the same everywhere.”

“Well, maybe it’s tastier in the sea air,” I suggested.

She rolled her eyes, although not in batter. “Look,” she told me, “next time you decide you want fowl named for something, let’s not pick such a broad category as a state. We could get a dish that’s named specifically after you personally.”

“And what would that be?” I asked.

“You know,” she said. “Jerk chicken.”

Posted in Food and Drink, New to Kentucky | 10 Comments »

Does Chardonnay Go with Wheaties?

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 12/13/2009

Some people have pointed out that my blog doesn’t seem to have a theme. Well, actually “some people” is my wife. Last night, we watched the film Julie and Julia, which you may already know is about a woman named Julie Powell who decided to blog as she cooked her way completely through Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

“Why can’t you come up with something inventive like that?” my wife suggested. “I have a huge cookbook collection.”

“I hate cooking,” I reminded her. “And, also,  I’m terrible at it. You can’t even stand the way I make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”

“Yeah, that’s because you use half a jar of everything. And who ever heard of spreading marmalade with a slotted spoon?”

“The forks were all in the dishwasher. Anyway, I held my hand underneath it, didn’t I? But, if you don’t like the way I operate in the kitchen, how about if we go to a different restaurant in Lexington every night, and I write about that?”

Our neighbors might have wondered what that mysterious dice-like noise was shortly after midnight. Answer: my wife’s eyes rolling. “And who’s going to pay for our meals?” she asked.

“Well, maybe we can get restaurant owners to give us dinner in exchange for the free advertising they’ll get on my blog.”

“Oh, yeah, they’re just dying to reach your five readers. Remind me again how many of them live in Kentucky.”

We continued going back and forth this way for about half an hour. My wife thought I might try my hand at shopping for fresh produce and whipping up a different salad each night. I had the great idea to blog about my experiences microwaving TV dinners and frozen pot pies. She wondered if readers would like watching me struggle with The Idiot Child’s Step-by-Step Picture Cookbook. I thought maybe it would be cool if she worked her way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking, and I blogged about my reactions.

Finally, we arrived at a mutually agreeable solution. I would blog about a food that I already make myself every day. Of course, by “make” I mean “pour into a bowl.” So here are the first few entries of “The Larry/Julia Cereal Serial.”

Sunday Morning, December 13, 9:00 a.m.
Still sleeping.

Sunday Morning, December 13, 10:00 a.m.
Still sleeping, but I’ll be up soon. I promise.

Sunday Afternoon, December 13, 1:00  p.m.
I always hated Cheerios when I was a kid because they were kind of bland. They still are, but I’ve invented a recipe to make them more palatable. I’m confident that Julia Child would have loved it, and you will, too!

Cover the Cheerios with about three huge handfuls of raisins. If you like, add a tablespoon of  honey, maple syrup, or Cabernet Sauvignon.  Fill a thimble with milk and pour it in slowly, stirring vigorously as you do. For a real treat, tear apart four Oreos, scoop out the creme filling and set it aside for later use. Then, holding the cookies firmly in your palms, bring your hands together as hard as you can, as if clapping for a really great meal. If you do that correctly, you’ll hear a smashing noise, and see a few crumbs drop to the floor. Don’t worry about those little fallen pieces right now; you can wait a few minutes before you sweep them up and set them aside for later use. In the meantime, brush the remaining crispy chocolate bits from your palms directly onto the cereal.

I can almost hear the spirit of Julia saying “yum,” although I’m certain that she would have found a way to add butter.

Sunday Afternoon, December 13, 1:15 p.m.
Well, this blog might be fun after all. Since I’m still hungry, I’ve decided to pour myself a bowl of Barbara’s Bakery Peanut Butter Puffins. These are little low fat, wheat-free pillows of corn meal, dehydrated cane juice, natural peanut butter, oat flour, rice flour, sea salt, and – of course – soy, which adds nothing except authority. I had a little difficulty keeping the nuggets from bouncing as they flowed from box to bowl; Julia doesn’t address this issue in any of her cookbooks. I’m guessing that perhaps the answer is to hold the carton a bit closer to the countertop, rather than over your head. My wife thought this dish was delicious, although she keeps complaining about the crunching under her feet as she walks through the kitchen. So here’s an important lesson that every cereal cook must remember: It doesn’t pay to try to please everyone.

Sunday Afternoon, December 13, 2:30 p.m.
Snack time. I was hoping to try my hand at pouring some Trix or Cocoa Puffs, but the only other cereal we have in the house is Nature’s Path Organic Optimum Blueberry Cinnamon. Blueberry Cinnamon what? Don’t the people at Nature’s Path know that you can’t have a couple of adjectives standing alone like shmucks without a noun to modify?  How about “Crunchies” or “Crispies” or “Pops”? The problem is: the cereal has a lot of different textures mushed together. There are flakes and bits that look like Grape-Nuts and others that resemble Smacks and even some little chunks of fruit, which, as Julia would surely have known, should have been raisins, but which are actually dried blueberries. I sensed I was really in trouble with this cereal when I read “Now with 25% LESS Sugar.” Why would anybody do that? Worst of all, the fifth ingredient is “organic flax,” which always tastes like sardines to me, and overwhelms all the grainy fruity goodness of the other stuff. You can forget about matching this dish with an appropriate wine; vintners have yet to discover a varietal that works well with cinnamon, wheat, blueberries, soy (you figured that, right?), and anchovy flavoring. Even adding a cup of butter failed to make this palatable.

Sunday Afternoon, December 13, 3:00 p.m.
I’ve decided to cancel The Larry/Julia Cereal Serial. My wife made BLT’s for lunch, so this blog will now return to its pristine themeless state. Bon appétit.

Posted in Food and Drink | 2 Comments »

My Stocking Had Better Have a Great Nose

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 12/08/2009

With Christmas only a few weeks away, I thought I’d better give some of my readers a hint about what to get me. So I’ll just simply say: I’m an oenophile. This confession may look more exotic to you than it really is. An oenophile (pronounced “een-o-file,” although sometimes you’ll hear “ween-o-file” or  “weenie for short) is merely a fancy term for a person who loves wine and considers himself to be something of a connoisseur. A good synonym, if you’d like to avoid Latinisms and/or tripping over your own tongue, is “wine snob.”

It’s tough to be an oenophile in a city where the best selection of bottles comes from a place called “The Liquor Barn.” If that conjures up pictures in your mind of people in overalls shopping for a bubbly pinkish beverage, you’re dead wrong. The Liquor Barn, believe it or not, has a pretty decent stock, although I wish it were called “La Grange du Vin.”

Kentucky’s claim to fame is, of course,  bourbon, not wine. There are a few wines made in Kentucky, but the ones I’ve sampled are pretty much indistinguishable from Kool-Aid – except that Kool-Aid isn’t as sweet. However, judging from La Grange du Vin’s shelves, there are plenty of oenophiles here, some even willing to spend more than four bucks on a bottle.

The news that I’m an oenophile may come as something of a surprise to old friends who remember me from my early –‘70s dandelion cider days, when I would drink anything as long as it as served by someone wearing a ponytail. But after sampling a homemade concoction known in my social circle as “Gino’s tomato brandy,” I decided that my days of indiscriminate beverage consumption were over. The stuff was a cross between fermented ketchup and lighter fluid. You could get a pretty good buzz if you were able to get enough down, but that was impossible to do if you ever wanted to use your stomach again.

It was around that time that I learned how appealing wine can be for a person who likes to read a lot. There’s so much to study before you can actually feel comfortable sitting back, taking a sip of a Grand Cru Chablis, and saying, “Hey, that’s not Coke, is it?” For one thing, you have to learn how to correctly pronounce the offerings on a restaurant wine list. When faced with the words “Chateauneuf de Pape,” for instance, you should not say, “chat enough duh payp.” Instead, you should carefully mouth the words, “Do you have something less expensive.” If you’re willing to be cute, feel free to add, “S’il vous plait.”

Only a true oenophile can stand beside an exquisitely beautiful woman, exclaim “Oh, my goodness, what gorgeous legs!” and be talking about the dribbles from a 2006 Gewurztraminer. Legs, in wine talk, are those little streamlike trickles on the sides of your glass after you swirl the liquid around. If that’s the kind of thing that turns you on in the presence of a sex kitten, you are a weenie.

Another part of the body that oenophiles like to talk about is the “nose.” This is wine-snob lingo for how the beverage smells. At a fancy tasting, you might well hear a connoisseur intone, “Ah, the nose on this Chateau Parvenu is redolent of leather.” Nobody ever says, “This stuff smells like old shoes.”

If you’ve never been to a wine-tasting, you’ve missed one of the universe’s great silly experiences. A wine-tasting is the only place in the world besides a dentist’s office where it isn’t gauche for an adult to expectorate. After taking a mouthful of wine and slurping it around against your teeth and tongue in a long sensual tease, you’re supposed to hawk it out into a spittoon. At the classiest wine-tastings, you might find yourself spewing out liquid that sells for hundreds of dollars a bottle, which, in my book, is nothing to spit at. But if you happen to sneak a swallow, the other attendees will stare at you as if you’re a Martian. Which you’re clearly not, because Martians don’t go for wine; they prefer tomato brandy or bourbon.

It’s easy to get intimidated at a wine-tasting, but I’m here to help you. There are only six steps you need to know before arriving at that glorious moment when you get to eject the very thing that you came to get sloshed on.

First, watch carefully as the cork is removed from the bottle. This is very important, since an unopened bottle will not pour well. When the cork is passed around, you take a slight whiff of it. Remember, though, that no one will find it funny if you shove it into one of your nostrils. Oenophiles have no sense of humor.

Second, read the label carefully. Avoid tasting the wine if you see the word “anchovy” used as a descriptor.

Third, after the wine is poured, swirl it in your glass. This is a difficult process to master, but it’s not considered good form to use your thumb. Try not to spill anything on yourself, but if you do so, don’t even think about wringing your shirt into a glass.

Fourth, examine the wine with your eyes. What color is it? If it’s grey, don’t drink it. Is it clear or cloudy? Or is it already raining? Does it have a luminosity? Does it glow in the dark? Are there little particles floating in it? Are they alphabet noodles?

Fifth, sniff the wine. Get your beak right down there and take a really noisy breath. However, try to keep the tip of your nose dry. What you’re trying to discern is the subtle combination of aromas contained in the sample. You’ll hear your colleagues come up with some howlers, like: peaches, truffles, cigars. Don’t hesitate to shout anything that comes to mind, although it’s probably best to keep it to yourself if the only thing you can think of is Vicks.

Sixth, while nobody’s looking, chug. If someone notices that you have an empty glass, smile and say smugly, “Oh, I’m interested only in the Chassagne-Montrachet.” If the person then replies, “Well, we just tried the Chassagne-Montrachet,” don’t get thrown. Respond, “No, I meant the 1949 Chassagne-Montrachet.” If the conversation continues with, “Ummm, that was the 1949 Chassagne-Montrachet,” shrug and ask, “Are you sure? Don’t you think we’d better try it again?”

Posted in Christmas, Wine | 4 Comments »

Do You Want Cream and Chitchat with That?

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 12/01/2009

Slowly, but not so surely, I’m getting acclimated to living in Kentucky.  Unfortunately, I haven’t found my niche yet. By “niche,” I mean hang-out, a place where I can grab a cup of coffee and stumble into an interesting conversation. Unlike in New Yawk – or Florida, for that matter – the Starbuck’s shops here have drive-in windows, so I don’t even have to get out of the car for my caffeine fix. On the downside, the only thing there is to talk about during my coffee run is whether or not I want whipped cream with that.

The local bookshops/coffeebars (or is it “coffeebars/bookshops”) are unsatisfactory as hang-outs. Lexington’s Barnes & Noble, one of the few places in town that’s actually an inconvenient distance away from my house,  may be the worst stocked store in the entire nationwide chain. The last time I was there, my discount coupon burning a hole in my pocket, four different books that I wanted were not available at that particular location. Of course, since I was not looking for Christian Fiction, Graphic Novels/Manga, or the biography of a famous horse, I probably didn’t stand a chance. Anyone acquainted with me knows how excruciatingly painful I find it to walk out of a bookstore empty-handed, particularly when I have an opportunity to save 40% off the purchase price of any hardcover. But empty-handed I was, although I think I fled the premises in time to prevent myself from becoming empty-headed.  Lexington’s B&N is not a bookish place; it’s a big box for semi-literates to shop in.

The other big Lexington book store is Joseph Beth, one of five in a regional chain. Its variety of merchandise is somewhat better than the Barnes & Noble’s, although you still can’t find every single Dickens novel or Shakespeare play amid the candy, totes, and sweatshirts. There is a very good selection of magazines, and a generous sampling of current books that are not best-sellers, but the politics section leans heavily to the right. Oh, well … it is in Kentucky, and the book-sellers do have to make a living. There are always plenty of people browsing, but the place is unusually quiet, at least to my Manhattan-trained ears. I’ve been there about a dozen times and have yet to hear any arguments about whether or not a particular author is any good. Perhaps Kentucky’s literati are more polite than the ones I’m used to back in New Yawk, but I haven’t been able to butt into a single juicy disagreement. And no one has snuck up behind me to look over my shoulder while I thumb through a volume on one of the sale tables. Back home, someone would surely say, “Don’t buy that. It sucks.” (Kentuckians, it seems, are too genteel to offer unsolicited literary advice.) However, there are seats scattered throughout the premises, and a terrific “bistro” that serves food good enough to make it a destination even for someone who would rather watch TV than read. But because it’s really rather restaurant-ish, with individual tables and booths that have plenty of space between them, there’s nothing on the menu for the chat-hungry.

Most of the people I’ve met casually in luncheonettes and delis are sports fanatics, folks who actually think it matters whether or not the local college team wins. The Lexington Herald-Leader, our alleged newspaper, often has a sports story above the fold. This makes perfect sense, because nobody here seems to care passionately about anything else. Except their religion. Everywhere I turn, I see a church. Forget going anywhere on a Sunday morning; the traffic is ridiculous. If I were a believer, the first thing I’d pray for would be a better city infrastructure. I’d also want more people who ask themselves, “How would Jesus drive?”

For the time being, I’ll have to keep hunting for that loud diner – the kind you can still find on many New Yawk street corners – where coffee comes in a cup that has pictures of Grecian urns and the words “We are happy to serve you;” and where you can easily join the discussion at the table behind you just by turning around and making a sarcastic comment.

Posted in Books & Bookshops, Food and Drink, New to Kentucky, Once a New Yorker ... | 4 Comments »

Sorry, but Nothing Rhymes with “Cranberry Sauce”

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 11/24/2009

My wife and I are in a mixed marriage: She’s a baked potato person; I’m mashed all the way. Although neither of us is a Crispian, we do have some friends who are. So a few years ago, I decided we needed to find a Thanksgiving song that, while favoring no particular peelological system, still acknowledged the greater glory of Spud.

However, after hours of research, I couldn’t come up with a single holiday tune that included root vegetables at all. Or any other type of food, for that matter! What gives? The fourth Thursday in November is not just some non-pecktarian celebration. It’s a time specifically set aside for us to fill our plates to the brim with tasty vittles of all kinds. We need to put the tang back in Thanksgiving.

So I borrowed an old ditty, and changed the words ever so slightly, making sure to mention potatoes in passing. (And please, while you’re at it, pass the gravy, too.) I now gladly share this with all my readers, in hopes that it will help them better understand the true meaning of this week’s festivities. Sing along, why don’t you?

We gather together to ask for more dressing,
Potatoes, tomatoes, and turkey piled high,
And plenty of vino.
Let’s end with cappuccino.*
Sing praises to the cook,
Who forgets not the pie.

*Feel free, if you must, to replace this line with: “Then pass around the Beano.

Posted in Food and Drink, Holidays, Music | 5 Comments »

Whose Famous What?!

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 11/21/2009

OK, all you New Yawkers take a deep breath, because you won’t believe this.

So I was driving in Lexington today, and I passed a restaurant called Detroit’s Famous Coney Island. I was not tempted to stop and try it, though, because I’ve eaten quite a number of times at Coney Island itself, and I can’t see any reason that someone other than a gastroenterologist would want to import that experience.

I might have considered sampling a restaurant called Coney Island’s Famous Detroit, but what would they serve there? Cars in buns? How about Lexington’s Famous Coney Island? Obviously: Horsemeat and kraut.

By Googling, I found out that hot dogs in Michigan are frequently referred to as “coney dogs.” They’re usually served with a meat-laden sauce, which to me seems like gilding the piccalilli. Further research revealed that the custom has not spread across the border to Ontario, so what’s sauce for the Canada Goose is not necessarily sauce for the Michigander, and vice versa.

By extension from “coney dog,” the term “coney island” is any Michigan greasy-spoon joint specializing in franks, burgers, french fries, onion rings, maybe fried fish, and other assorted Prilosec-friendly foods. I found Web sites for George’s Famous Coney Island, Johnny’s Famous Coney Island, and Angelo’s Famous Coney Island, as well as the American Coney Island, which, actually being famous, doesn’t need to include that word in its title. The American’s Internet page lists the names of about twenty celebrities who have eaten there, a fact that would have been more impressive if I had heard of at least ten of them. I’m guessing that the unfamiliar folks are probably sports stars or local politicians. Maybe both.

In any case, to return to Kentucky: I’m going to keep my eyes open for other Lexington restaurants with either “New York” or one of its venues in their names. In my last post, I mentioned Stanley J’s New York Style Deli (the name of which, because of the word “style,” is commendably honest), but there’s also Giacomo’s New York Delicatessen and the Brooklyn Sports Grill & Pizzria (that’s not a typo). I’ll now be on the lookout for eateries with other boroughs or New York City landmarks in their titles, but a quick peek through the phone book portends that I’ll have no luck. We do have a street named Broadway here, so that word wouldn’t count, even if there were a restaurant that used it, which there isn’t.

Of course, not to be too one-sided, I feel compelled to point out that there’s the Lexington Candy Shop in Manhattan, statues of jockeys in front of the 21 Club, and nearly fifty restaurants throughout the city that are called “Kentucky Fried Chicken.”

Posted in Food and Drink, New to Kentucky, Once a New Yorker ... | 7 Comments »

Nice Food

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 11/20/2009

Today, I found a sandwich shop in Lexington that serves authentic chopped liver, very like the kind I used to wish my grandmother made when I was growing up in the Bronx. My friends’ grandmothers made terrific chopped liver, loaded with plenty of onions and chicken fat and even gribenes, which are kind of like fried pork rinds except without the pork.

But Nanny’s version of chopped liver was mostly Crisco. In fact, everything Nanny made was mostly Crisco. She just shaped it differently for matzo balls, for potato pancakes, for noodle kugel. When I crossed the street to visit her for lunch, I didn’t always know exactly what ingredients would be in the food she prepared. But I did know that whatever it was, I’d be belching it up for a week.

“Why aren’t you eating that? It’s nice food. Whatsa matter, you don’t like chopped liver all of a sudden? Who doesn’t like chopped liver? Are you crazy, or what?”

“It’s mostly Crisco.”

“Very funny. Remind me to laugh later, when I loosen my girdle so I don’t hurt my sides. Whattaya talking? There’s plenty of liver there. Show me where there’s not liver. And since when did you become a food critic at seven years old?”

“I just don’t like the way it tastes.”

“What’s to taste? It’s chopped liver. How do you think it’s supposed to taste, like a Hershey bar? It’s nice.”

I always wondered: How could food be nice? It could be delicious or disgusting; it could even be beautiful or bad-looking. But nice? Food has no personality.

“You always liked my cooking. Didn’t you always like my cooking? You always liked my cooking. And you know why? Because what I serve you is much nicer than a fancy restaurant. Maybe you don’t get a cloth napkin with other people’s shmutz all over it, but by my house, you eat good. So go criticize a cafeteria and write it up in the newspaper and I’ll buy a copy and frame it over the couch. In the meantime, eat!”

I’d push my food around the plate until I was able to fool myself into thinking that it looked as if I’d consumed most of it.

“What are you, a sculptor? Eat. You need some crackers? Here, put your liver on crackers. They’ll help the poison go down, and we can both die happy.”

“I don’t like those crackers. They’re too salty.”

“That’s why they call them Saltines. What should they be, peppery? Let me see if I have some Pepperines. Or maybe you want some Chocolatechips-ines? If they made those, I’d give them to you, believe me. But all they make is Saltines, because that’s what normal people like.”

For dessert, we’d always have Jell-O. Nanny kept bowls of it pre-made in her refrigerator, lying in ambush for me. She bought boxes and boxes of whatever kind was on sale, as long as it was in the berry group. Strawberry. Raspberry. Cherry. Black Cherry. Black Raspberry. We never had orange or lemon – they were abominations. Lime, in particular, was “way too goyish; Jews don’t care for it.” No explanation given. Maybe she’d read somewhere that Hitler liked it.

“I’ve got a surprise for dessert. Guess what it is. I bet you can’t. Should I tell you?”

“Jell-O, right? What flavor?”

“Red.”

“They’re all red. Can’t you tell me what flavor it is?”

“What’s the difference? It’s red. Strawberry, raspberry, something like that. You always love Jell-O, so whattaya hockin’ me with flavors? It’s nice.”

“Why don’t we ever have lime?”

“I don’t like lime. You like lime? You don’t like lime. Whoever heard of chopped liver and then lime Jell-O? Tell me: how does that go together? Lime is goyish.”

“How can a flavor be a religion?”

“Listen, smart guy. If you can’t figure it out, don’t ask. Believe me, lime is plenty goyish, and on top of that, it’s gassy. They should cook it with a Tum mixed in. So don’t noodj me about lime. You want the Jell-O, it’s in the Frigidaire. You don’t want the Jell-O, leave it. Who cares, goyish or not? I buy red. It wouldn’t kill you to have a little Jell-O, but do what you want. I’m only your grandmother, so what do I know?”

I always took a bowl of the stuff. Because even though I wouldn’t give Nanny the satisfaction of telling her, I secretly loved Jell-O. I still do. In fact, the next time I stop into Stanley J’s Deli for a nice sandwich, I’ll have to see if they carry my favorite flavor: red. It goes great with chopped liver.

Posted in Food and Drink, Memoirs, Nanny, New to Kentucky, The Oys of Yiddish | 8 Comments »