Old Menus: Los Angeles, 1982, 1991

January 9, 2016

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Just found a folder of menus from my years at the Los Angeles Times.  There’s this one, from the old Spago (Wolf actually drew the cover himself), long before it moved to spiffy new quarters in Beverly Hills. This may be the first menu, although I’m not sure about that. Note that the highest priced entree is $14.50.

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Isn’t it interesting that there are two liver dishes, along with sweetbreads and squab? Also note the inclusion of goat cheese, which was then a new American product; Laura Chenel started selling America’s first fresh goat cheese in 1979

Then there are these menus from Thomas Keller, long before he went on to French Laundry fame.  I was a big fan of his food at Checkers Hotel in downtown Los Angeles, but the restaurant never really took off. One interesting note: look how much more adventurous Keller let himself be with brunch. Duck hash; chorizo gravy; peanut butter waffles.

This is lunch:

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Waffling Around

January 8, 2016

unnamedI’m crazy about my vintage cast iron waffle maker. (Not pictured.) It’s turned out perfect waffles for 40 years. It barely needs cleaning. And it makes heart-shaped waffles that are, frankly, adorable.

My most satisfying breakfast ritual begins with hauling the huge base – it must weigh at least five pounds – up to my stovetop. When the pan begins to sing with heat I cover it with Fannie Farmer’s yeast-raised waffle batter, carefully close the top, and wait.  When the top rises just a bit I turn it over and wait some more. The truth is that my well seasoned griddle cooks waffles almost as fast as my family can eat them – which is very fast indeed. They are always gone too soon. The only catch? My little Jotul waffle iron is no longer made, and the last one I found on Etsy cost way too much.

But I’ve just found a great buy on a humble version of my stovetop wonder. It has no base.  The triangles aren’t hearts. But it’s also 24 bucks, and pure cast iron. And just to encourage you, here’s the time-honored Fannie Farmer Recipe, which makes light, crisp airy waffles that nobody can resist.

Fannie Farmer’s Yeast-Raised Waffles

Sprinkle 1 package of dry yeast over a half cup of warm water in a large bowl and wait for it to dissolve.

Meanwhile melt a stick of butter, add 2 cups of milk and allow it to just gently warm up. Add it to the yeast mixture.

Mix a teaspoon each of salt and sugar into 2 cups of flour. Add this to the liquid and beat until smooth.

Cover the bowl and let it stand overnight at room temperature. In the morning beat in 2 eggs and a quarter teaspoon of baking soda, stirring well. Cook on a very hot waffle iron until crisp on each side.

This makes about 8 waffles, and will keep for a few days in the refrigerator.

Note: If you want to make waffles the same morning you make the batter you can speed up the sponge process. Place the covered bowl with the yeast mixture in a larger bowl of warm water for an hour, or until doubled, and proceed with the recipe.

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Another New Thing to Love

January 7, 2016

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This is silly.  I know it. How can you get excited about fried onions?

Maybe it’s growing up on those canned ones my mother loved so much – the ones she put into her famous “everything casserole.”  As I later discovered, they aren’t all that great.  So I began making my own. But getting a big batch of onions really crisp takes time.

So when I saw these in the market the other day, I pounced.  They’re natural. They’re imported from Denmark. They’re inexpensive. And they’re delicious.

Good to have on hand when you need a little lagniappe to perk up your vegetables.  Or simply to eat out of hand.

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More About Dad

January 6, 2016

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There are so many touching comments on the post I wrote yesterday about my father that I thought I’d share a little more.

What I remember best about Dad is his excitement when he found a book he thought that Mom and I would love.  He’d bring the galleys home saying, “You have to read this!”  That’s how I first discovered Kurt Vonnegut; when Dad designed Cat’s Cradle, he insisted we read the book. I became an instant and lifelong Vonnegut fan.

Then there was I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, a seminal novel about mental illness. Because we knew by then that Mom was bipolar, the book resonated especially strongly with all us.  You have to read it! I went on to many of the author’s other books.  I especially recommend In This Sign to anyone who wants to understand how it feels to be born deaf.

Dad’s career began in the days of letterpress, but he was entranced by the possibilities of the future.  In 1975 I gave him a subscription to a magazine called Fine Print. He was very gentle about it, but he said, “I never knew you considered me a luddite.  I don’t yearn for the past.  I think the computer is going to be the greatest tool a designer ever had.”  It makes me sad he’s not around to see what’s going on today.

If you want to know what Dad was like at home, I think this excerpt from Tender at the Bone, pretty much says it all.  I might add that no matter what Mom had served us, at the end of every meal Dad would reach out, take her hand, kiss it and thank her for dinner.  Then he’d turn to me and say, “Your mother is a wonderful cook.”

THE QUEEN OF MOLD

This is a true story.

Imagine a New York City apartment at six in the morning. It is a modest apartment in Greenwich Village. Coffee is bubbling in an electric percolator. On the table is a basket of rye bread, an entire coffee cake, a few cheeses, a platter of cold cuts. My mother has been making breakfast–a major meal in our house, one where we sit down to fresh orange juice every morning, clink our glasses as if they held wine, and toast each other with “Cheerio. Have a nice day.” Right now she is the only one awake, but she is getting impatient for the day to begin and she cranks WQXR up a little louder on the radio, hoping that the noise will rouse everyone else. But Dad and I are good sleepers, and when the sounds of martial music have no effect she barges into the bedroom and shakes my father awake.

“Darling,” she says, “I need you. Get up and come into the kitchen.”

My father, a sweet and accommodating person, shuffles sleepily down the hall. He is wearing loose pajamas, and the strand of hair he combs over his bald spot stands straight up. He leans against the sink, holding on to it a little, and obediently opens his mouth when my mother says, “Try this.”

Later, when he told the story, he attempted to convey the awfulness of what she had given him. The first time he said that it tasted like cat toes and rotted barley, but over the years the description got better. Two years later it had turned into pigs’ snouts and mud and five years later he had refined the flavor into a mixture of antique anchovies and moldy chocolate.

Whatever it tasted like, he said it was the worst thing he had ever had in his mouth, so terrible that it was impossible to swallow, so terrible that he leaned over and spit it into the sink and then grabbed the coffeepot, put the spout into his mouth, and tried to eradicate the flavor.

My mother stood there watching all this. When my father finally put the coffeepot down she smiled and said, “Just as I thought. Spoiled!”

And then she threw the mess into the garbage can and sat down to drink her orange juice.

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For the longest time I thought I had made this story up. But my brother insists that my father told it often, and with a certain amount of pride. As far as I know, my mother was never embarrassed by the telling, never even knew that she should have been. It was just the way she was.

Which was taste-blind and unafraid of rot. “Oh, it’s just a little mold,” I can remember her saying on the many occasions she scraped the fuzzy blue stuff off some concoction before serving what was left for dinner. She had an iron stomach and was incapable of understanding that other people did not.

This taught me many things. The first was that food could be dangerous, especially to those who loved it. I took this very seriously. My parents entertained a great deal, and before I was ten I had appointed myself guardian of the guests. My mission was to keep Mom from killing anybody who came to dinner.

Her friends seemed surprisingly unaware that they took their lives in their hands each time they ate with us. They chalked their ailments up to the weather, the flu, or one of my mother’s more unusual dishes. “No more sea urchins for me,” I imagined Burt Langner saying to his wife, Ruth, after a dinner at our house, “they just don’t agree with me.” Little did he know that it was not the sea urchins that had made him ill, but that bargain beef my mother had found so irresistible.

“I can make a meal out of anything,” Mom told her friends proudly. She liked to brag about “Everything Stew,” a dish invented while she was concocting a casserole out of a two-week-old turkey carcass. (The very fact that my mother confessed to cooking with two-week-old turkey says a lot about her.) She put the turkey and a half can of mushroom soup into the pot. Then she began rummaging around in the refrigerator. She found some leftover broccoli and added that. A few carrots went in, and then a half carton of sour cream. In a hurry, as usual, she added green beans and cranberry sauce. And then, somehow, half an apple pie slipped into the dish. Mom looked momentarily horrified. Then she shrugged and said, “Who knows? Maybe it will be good.” And she began throwing everything in the refrigerator in along with it–leftover pate, some cheese ends, a few squishy tomatoes.

That night I set up camp in the dining room. I was particularly worried about the big eaters, and I stared at my favorite people as they approached the buffet, willing them away from the casserole. I actually stood directly in front of Burt Langner so he couldn’t reach the turkey disaster. I loved him, and I knew that he loved food.

Unknowingly I had started sorting people by their tastes. Like a hearing child born to deaf parents, I was shaped by my mother’s handicap, discovering that food could be a way of making sense of the world.

At first I paid attention only to taste, storing away the knowledge that my father preferred salt to sugar and my mother had a sweet tooth. Later I also began to note how people ate, and where. My brother liked fancy food in fine surroundings, my father only cared about the company, and Mom would eat anything so long as the location was exotic. I was slowly discovering that if you watched people as they ate, you could find out who they were.

Then I began listening to the way people talked about food, looking for clues to their personalities. “What is she really saying?” I asked myself when Mom bragged about the invention of her famous corned beef ham.

“I was giving a party,” she’d begin, “and as usual I left everything for the last minute.” Here she’d look at her audience, laughing softly at herself. “I asked Ernst to do the shopping, but you know how absentminded he is! Instead of picking up a ham he brought me corned beef.” She’d look pointedly at Dad, who would look properly sheepish.

“What could I do?” Mom asked. “I had people coming in a couple of hours. I had no choice. I simply pretended it was a ham.” With that Dad would look admiringly at my mother, pick up his carving knife, and start serving the masterpiece.

MIRIAM REICHL’S CORNED BEEF HAM

4 pounds whole corned beef        1/4 cup brown sugar         

5 bay leaves                      Whole cloves                

1 onion, chopped                  1 can (1 pound 15 ounces)   

1 tablespoon prepared mustard     spiced peaches              

Cover corned beef with water in a large pot. Add bay leaves and onion. Cook over medium heat about 3 hours, until meat is very tender.

While meat is cooking, mix mustard and brown sugar.

Preheat oven to 325 [degrees].

Take meat from water and remove all visible fat. Insert cloves into meat as if it were ham. Cover the meat with the mustard mixture and bake 1 hour, basting frequently with the peach syrup.

Surround meat with spiced peaches and serve.

Serves 6.

 

 

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A Little Nepotism

January 5, 2016

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This is my father, Ernst Reichl, around 1923, when he was still in Germany, working on his doctorate in German literature.  I think he wrote his thesis on some obscure fifteenth century poet, but his real interest was always book design.  When he was still in school he worked for the publisher Kurt Wolff, and after he came to this country in 1926 he went to work at Doubleday as an art director.

He loved books.  You could see that every time he held one in his hands; he had a way of opening a book and stroking the pages, as if it was some rare and wonderful animal.  He knew more about typography than anyone I’ve ever met; he could tell you, in a second what typeface it was, who had designed it, and which iteration this was. “Look at the descender on the y,” he’d say.  “It’s longer in the Monotype.”

He kept a copy of every one of the thousand of books he designed in his long career; his most famous design is for Ulysses (for which he also designed the original jacket on the American edition).

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On weekends Dad sometimes amused himself by  putting little cards into each book; he included notes about the design decisions, along with author comments and anything else he thought might be of interest to bibliophiles. When Dad died his library, along with the notes, went to Columbia, where it sat pretty much unmolested until a couple of years ago when Martha Scotford, an expert on design history, got her hands on it. In 2013 she curated a show about Dad’s work which she called “The Wide Awake Typographer.”  Last month the entire show went online.

You can find it at ernstreichl.org.

Here’s a little note on the show:

The information gathered here is primarily from research at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript library, which holds the Ernst Reichl archives. In particular the information comes from over 500 index cards that Reichl wrote about many of the books he designed from the late 1920s to the late 1970s.

About the Reichl exhibition: The Rare Book and Manuscript Library hosted an exhibition of over 100 books by Ernst Reichl from July 8 to September 13, 2013. The exhibition’s thematic organization and curator’s texts can be seen here, with linked book photos. The Library’s online exhibition is in development.

Note on website sub-title source: Reichl’s comment on the card for Joyce Carol Oates’ The Wheel of Love (Vanguard, 1970): “J.C.O. enjoys using typographic devices of all sorts to express herself… and many other oddities, which require a wide-awake typographer.”

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