Three Books I Can No Longer Reread

It’s always been my contention that fiction reflects its time and place better than many histories. Shakespeare’s Athens and Italy say more about Elizabethan London than the historical Greece and Italy. In fact, during my MFA defense, I described two kinds of art: high art, which has a universal intent, and folk art, which seeks to illuminate its times. Both types cross over: high art needs a context in which to operate, which comments on the time and place the author has chosen and the best folk art illustrates universal themes in the context of a specific time and place.

And then there is the problem of history–times change and with them the contexts of art. Huckleberry Finn is perhaps the best known example. Huck’s description of Jim is not unusual for the time and his friendship with the former slave starts to transcend the racial barriers of its times. However, today, it is no longer acceptable. In my opinion, removing the word from Huckleberry Finn is wrong; it should be used as the basis of an examination of race and class in America in a particular time and place and decidedly not portrayed as acceptable. Shakespeare has been regularly revised by well-meaning idiots who want to remove the pandering to the lower classes that “marred” the great playwright’s work.

Leading me, in a roundabout fashion, to the topic at hand. Books whose contexts have changed in a relatively short time.

On the Road, Kerouac’s great work, used to be seen as the wild adventures of non-conformists in a conformist America. Dean Moriarity was the great hero, unfettered, uninhibited, the role model for all those who would be free. Today, rereading the book, or viewing the movie, Dean is more of a damaged, near-sociopath whose relentless auto theft, seduction, and hunger for acceptance by the literati makes the book more a study of someone you should never let near your car, your girlfriend or your life.

Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, Richard Farina’s only novel, showed the adventures of hipster Gnossos Pappadapolis’s adventures through a fictionalized Cornell, Cuba, and points in between, featuring wild mescaline trips, A-Bomb tests after a night at a Las Vegas casino, hunting a wolf in the Adirondacks, and a cast of characters who are the post beatnik, pre-hippy generation doomed to become Mad Men and suburban housewives. Farina, who died tragically (senselessly) in a motorcycle accident leaving a book publication party, probably would have gone on to update his visions in future books.

Alas, rereading it now, Gnossos, like Dean, seems more like a destructive child, someone who thinks that since he is superior to Philistine frat members, there is nothing wrong in plundering one’s room in search of Scotch and a free meal. Worse, his attitude toward women reflects those times, not these. What used to read as a wild seduction scene with Pamela Watson-May today reads as date-rape. His description of a friend’s wife, who guides his hand between her legs “to where she had something to say” was exciting to an 18-year old near-virgin, but makes Gnossos merely a sexist boy today.

Lest you think that all I do is read hipster novels, take The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway’s first novel. The story of a group of friends, victims of W.W. I., on a holiday to Pamplona’s San Fermin festival, uses Robert Cohn as the quintessential outsider who will never understand what is real and important and what is simply surface. The last time I read it, what struck me was that Robert Cohn is an outsider because he is Jewish more than because he is not a veteran. “Why does he hang around looking so Jewish?” Jake Barnes’s friend asks, after complaining that Robert’s cheapness led to the telegram “Venga jueves,” when for the same price he could have given more information. That he slept with Lady Brett when Jake cannot infuriates Hemingway to the point that the novel hinges on Cohn beating up Brett’s bullfighter lover. Boxing, Jake reminds us in introducing Cohn, got Cohn’s nose broken and presumably made it less “Jewish.”

Hard to recommend these books these days without a major disclaimer. History moves on. Art remains fixed in its time and place.

Chicken Soup with Dill

This is as much a method as it is a recipe. In the old days, chickens had more flavor so you could make a good stock with just a chicken. These days, you need some help, although local free range chickens do have a much richer taste. I recommend using one–you’ll taste the difference. Using cold water and a slow heat gives a better broth. If your goal is boiled chicken, add it to boiling water. Either way, you’ll have leftover cooked chicken. My advice is to tear into bite sized shreds and mix it with fresh grapes sliced in half lengthwise, toasted almond slices, chopped celery, curry powder and mayonnaise for chicken salad. I like to pull chicken into largish shreds and cut them crosswise rather than dice the cooked chicken because I think it eats better that way.

Parsnips make the broth a little sweeter. The serving carrots can be roll-cut or cut into thick coins. To roll cut a carrot: Cut the tip off at a diagonal. Roll the carrot ¼ turn and cut at an angle. Keep rolling and cutting, with the goal of similar bite-sized roughly triangular shapes. Way more interesting to serve and eat and they don’t overcook as fast. Cooking the noodles separately keeps them from absorbing all the broth you have lovingly created and keeps the soup clearer. You don’t have to make read-the-date-on-a-dime-at-the-bottom-of-the-pot clear consommé, but clear chicken soup is nicer. Don’t store the cooked noodles with the soup or you’ll end up with fat noodles and no broth.

Use fresh dill. If you are going to all this trouble, you should go all the way.

1 3lb chicken
2 large carrots (or 1 large carrot & 1 medium parsnip)
1 stalk celery, plus an inner stalk with leaves
1 bay leaf
1 large sprig of fresh dill
2-3 carrots, peeled and cut into small pieces
12 or so peppercorns
½ tsp kosher or sea salt

Optional Ingredients
2 cups Chicken stock or 2 TBSP chicken base
Package of chicken backs or giblets (about 1 lb)
Additional dill
Noodles / Matzoh balls / Oyster crackers / Saltines / Matzoh farfel*

Remove giblets and rinse chicken. Place in large pot and cover with cold water. For richer flavor, use half chicken stock and half cold water. Or rinse and add the additional chicken backs or giblets. Or add some good-quality chicken base. Place over medium heat and bring to a boil. Using cold water and a slow heat gives a better broth. If your goal is boiled chicken, add it to boiling water. Add all giblets except for the liver.

Peel the carrots (and/or parsnip) and wash the celery. Cut carrots in half and add to the pot. Add the celery, bay leaf, peppercorns, and dill. Add the salt if you are not using chicken stock or base.

Simmer uncovered over low heat for 1 ½ – 2 hours or until the chicken is well-cooked and the broth has a pleasing yellow color and has cooked down somewhat. Remove the chicken and let cool. Strain the broth. Eat the carrots if you like—they will be pretty overdone, but you will be hungry. Ditto for the giblets. Toss the rest. You can leave the broth in the fridge overnight to make it easier to skim the fat. Save the fat for matzoh balls or chopped liver if your dietician is not in the room. Remove the chicken from the bones and pull into largish shreds and reserve.

To serve: re-heat the soup. Add the additional carrots and simmer until the carrots are done, about 15 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper and add as needed. It will need salt. Cook noodles separately, if you are using them. Add as many chicken pieces as you want to serve and add them in the last five minutes to let them re heat. Place the hot noodles in each soup bowl if you are using them, add chicken and carrots to each bowl and top with broth. Snip dill fronds over each bowl for a sprinkling of fresh dill flavor.

*Matzoh farfel looks like small pieces of undercooked matzoh. You add it to soup at the table for a little crunch. A quick search will give you lots of ideas as to what to do with the rest of the box.


Today’s NYTimes had an article about passwords and how they are an attempt at personalizing what is essentially impersonal. It got me thinking about other names.

I once did work for a mfg software company whose servers were all named after the Marx brothers. After they ran out of brothers (Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Gummo, and Zeppo), they added Karlo. Wonder who the next server was named after. Keaton? Lenin? Trotsky? Moe/Larry/Curly?


Continue reading

Making Veal Stock

Having veal stock in the freezer is the culinary equivalent of money in the bank. One can pull out a cup or two, add it to a pan sauce and voila, an unctuous sauce that does not need thickening and has no chemical tastes or ingredients.

I use the basic proportions from the CIA’s Professional Chef–10 lbs bones, 1 lb aromatics, 6 oz of tomato paste and a sachet of thyme, fresh bay leaf, parsley and peppercorns. Six quarts of water turns into 16-20 cups of stock. Do this twice and you (I) have enough stock for the winter. Continue reading

Day Seven – No Rest for the Weary

Back from NOLA yesterday. Sarah and her sister Anne were due to spend a week in Costa Rica. Anne’s wife Barb had another seizure Tuesday night. Rachel got in touch with them and they got off the plane in Costa Rica, got back on and flew back to Atlanta where Anne got to say good-bye. Barbara died early this morning. She was a kind, generous, and loving person, younger than me, and we will all miss her terribly. I am so glad that Sarah is there for Anne.

Day Seven NOLA post will be a little delayed.

Day Six – In Which the Titanic Approaches the Iceberg



So originally we were supposed to eat at Antoine’s, an old school New Orleans restaurant. A chance to taste the classics as they’ve been done for 170 years. However, after checking a lot of the on-line reviews, the major comment by most posters was that the ambiance was fantastic, the food ranged from good to great, the servers from friendly to rude, but the price never approached less expensive. So we shifted to Donald Link’s oldest restaurant, Herbsaint, on St. Charles at the edge of the Central Business District.

Wow. To quote several grandchildren out of context, “that was a good decision.” We had what we all agreed was the best dinner we’ve had this week. When we got there, Donald himself was having a glass of wine with someone at one of the outside tables. Later on, we saw him duck into the kitchen. Now, we’re not thinking he personally cooked our meal, but just the fact that he was around was comforting. Continue reading