MFK Fisher at 80

August 18, 2016

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Almost thirty years ago, the remarkable MFK Fisher turned eighty. A restaurant in Lafayette, California threw a party – menu above – and food people came from all over the country to fete the writer.

From the piece I wrote for the Los Angeles Times. (You can read the entire article here….)

 

“Are you still writing restaurant reviews?” she asks as I walk in the door. And I suddenly recall something she said to me 10 years ago. After a long talk, she turned to me and said, “You can’t continue to be a restaurant critic, you know, unless you’re the ambitious kind of person who is willing to walk on your grandmother’s grave.”

At the party Craig Claiborne toasts her by saying she’s  “a national treasure.” Wine-maker Robert Mondavi’s toast:  “You’ve raised the image of food and wine in this country.”

Mary Frances sits there with a slightly bemused expression on her face; when all the toasts are over, she responds with a dry “very nice.”

“Promise me never to be 80,” she tells me during dinner, “it doesn’t feel good.” Still, her sense of humor and forthright manner remain unimpaired. When one speaker asks the assembled guests, “Did you know that she was a gag writer in Hollywood?” Fisher leans over to whisper, “Yes, for Bing Crosby and Dorothy Lamour. That job didn’t last very long.”

Hollywood’s loss was the food world’s gain; Fisher left gags to write “The Gastronomical Me,” a book about love and food and dignity. It is a book that makes you wish you could have been alive and well and eating in France in the ’30s, but even more, a book that makes you wonder how sensibly you are living in the ’80s. I once asked Fisher what she ate when she was alone and she replied, “Good stuff. You just can’t slug out a TV dinner, you know. One has to do it with a certain amount of pizazz.”

Asked why she agreed to leave her ranch to come to this particular dinner, she mumbles something about friends coming from all over to celebrate. But one suspects that there is a degree of bravado in the gesture; ensconced in a wheelchair, Fisher surveys the assembled guests with satisfaction, and when she leaves, she gives a jaunty wave of the cane.

She seems pleased to be able to demonstrate that she is alive and well and getting around.

 

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My Dinner at Pao Walla

August 17, 2016

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This is a Tingmo.  I wish I had taped the description our extremely beautiful waitress dreamed up, because it was the most remarkably sensual description….  I’m paraphrasing, but it went something like this.  “All of our breads are delicious, but you can find many of them in other restaurants. But this Tibetan bread is the softest, sexiest thing you’ll ever eat.  The yeast dough is rolled into ropes, then looped into a spiral and steamed into a texture unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.  Your mouth will be very happy.”

Dipped into the chutney sampler – I loved them all, but was particularly partial to the sprightly lemon and the searingly spicy chile versions – it was the perfect beginning to our meal at Floyd Cardoz’s new Pao Walla Restaurant.

I’ve always been a Floyd fan; I loved his food at Tabla, and when he was a contestant on Top Chef Masters in 2011, he made one shockingly delicious dish after another. (He won).  Here he’s doing something that feels very close to his heart; this is casual restaurant is serving Indian food you won’t find at other restaurants.

On a sticky hot night it was the perfect place to be, and we ate progression of dishes so hot and delicious we just kept ordering more.  After the tingmo (such a wonderful word!)  we had

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fluke ceviche with green mango and heart of palm in a sauce sparked with the strange appealing sourness of kokum, lightened with a splash of lime.

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An oddly appealing egg kejriwal:  French toast took a trip to India and liked it so much it decided to stay.  Sweet, cheesy and garlicky all at the same time, it’s one of those dishes that arrives seeming bland and stays to tease and intrigue you.

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Liver masala – like no liver you’ve ever tasted.  Tangled in spice and vegetables, it comes out fighting all those other flavors – and wins! (The roll on the side is a pao – a soft Portuguese-inspired bread.)

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Cucumber salad, an Indian version of the Chinese smashed cucumbers; a simple dish with surprising complexity.

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Shrimp with black pepper and lime; perfect finger food.

 

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Calamari stuffed with a complicated mixture.  Onions, I thought. Squid ink.  Cilantro. And then I  stopped thinking and simply ate for the pure pleasure of it. We were ordering blindly now, loving the scents rolling around the room, intoxicated by taste.  A chicken and chile dish arrived,  burned our mouths and made us happy.  We ordered more breads, ate more chutney. And finally, we shared a single cool and lovely dessert.

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This is wonderful food, wonderful fun, and if I were you I’d go now, while the heat wave is blanketing the city.  It’s the perfect taste for this time of year –  and you will go home happy.

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An Unpublished Recipe and an Old Menu

August 14, 2016

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I was looking through an old recipe folder, trying to find a clipping from the sixties, when I came upon this old menu from the seventies. Looking at these prices, I’m a little stunned; at the time I thought the Soho Charcuterie was an unimaginably expensive restaurant.

I also found this fax from my friend Marion Cunningham; I think I’d asked her for a quick and easy cake to bake for Michael’s birthday.  But I love the way she used language.

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Aspic, Again

August 13, 2016

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A couple more recipes from that Farm Journal Cookbook.  I just can’t resist these old-fashioned dishes, that take us back to an almost forgotten America when people were rolling ham up into rolls, using maraschino cherry juice and plopping eggs into aspic.

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I think what I find so appealing about these dishes is that they’re so far from anything anyone was making in New York when I was growing up.  This egg salad….

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Jellied Salad Anyone?

August 12, 2016

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This little gem comes from a 1968 gem of a cookbook called “Cooking for Company” from the editors of Farm Journal.

It’s such a retro recipe that I couldn’t resist it; I can’t remember the last time I actually saw anything that even remotely resembled this.

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