January Madness

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It’s an overcast Saturday morning here in New York City and there is a light bit of snow blowing outside. This has put my deep desire for a late morning run in question and makes me vaguely peevish. Kim has misplaced several key drawings for his next story (five or so luscious large pencil pages) and is slowing spreading the latter part of an almost finished graphic novel across our one room apartment in search of them. The pages have not left the apartment so we know they are here. A thorough search of piles of original art is underway. A certain frantic undertone to the commencement of our weekend here at Deitch Studio.

The desk in question, being searched.

Meanwhile, Blackie is snoring softly behind me on a very large box which contains an air fryer. While I am a bit curious about air fryers I never would have purchased one (let alone such a large one) except we’ve been informed that a city mandated gas inspection, which commenced Friday, has our cooking gas turned off. It will take a minimum of 6-8 months, but many buildings report that it has taken up to two years or more. (Yes, you read that correctly – they are turning off our cooking gas for what could be years.)

The model chosen after reading the NYT Wirecutter and other reviews.

I have moments of thinking that maybe it would be worth getting involved in City policy long enough to eliminate this bit of idiocy which is based on an incident where someone tied out an illegal gas line with a garden hose and the building ultimately blew up. Manhattan, perhaps all five boroughs, are looking now to eliminate gas cooking. This is a concept that could ultimately roust me from my perch here in New York City – gas cooking is beloved to me.

Life without making soup seems dreadful so I purchased this as well. Let’s see how I do with these new toys.

So, for now and despite Blackie’s fondness for the aforementioned box, I will spend this weekend unpacking the air fryer and an Instant Pot. (I cannot live without soup. One of several recipes can be found here.) I will rearrange our tiny kitchen and somehow fit these new appliances in – some of my beloved larger pots and pans can live in the oven I guess. (An ode to a dying fry pan can be found here.) Of course the adventure of learning to cook with them remains – I suspect you will receive further details. We have a microwave as well which I have generally only used to heat leftovers, but will be pressed into service. I have tried to amass groceries for easy execution at first, baby steps.

Blackie in full possession of the air fryer box.

Maybe the toaster can live in our storage locker and give us back another 12 inches of counter space? Electrical outlets have become prized real estate overnight and we are grateful for a renovation which added one. Additionally, there are two electric burners which the building assigned to us as a stove top. I hear rumors that the power draw for them is huge and that they cannot be used in tandem with the other appliances. Note taken, but I think we can look forward to the odd days when we space on that and blow a fuse.

At work Covid is stealthily making its way through the office again. We talk about it less, but staff are sick with it or living with people who have it. Most of the rules and protocols have fallen away and we are left to our own devices, instructing people to stay home and test – five days clear? I think there is a sense that people will just get it and get it again and again, but we do need to think about the people for whom it can be dangerous for various reasons, or like me have someone in their life who is fragile physically.

A pot of soup from a former post.

Along those lines my mom was diagnosed with pneumonia last week, not surprising given her immobility. I have home tested for Covid, but will go out and get a PCR test in case I need to go back to New Jersey. I mentally add it to the list I am making for this weekend.

I have long thought that TS Eliot had it wrong – it is January not April which is the cruelest month. For me it has uneasy memories of illness commencing and death, truly the nadir of each year which then needs to be reincarnated annually. (Oddly I am a bit distrustful of August too.) There is a gentle but persistent, burgeoning insanity that is barely kept in check in the month of January.

However, the pages in question above have been located at last. Kim is now contentedly inking a page which was his intention when he discovered the pencils missing, so a calm has returned to the house. He has promised to bring me a cup of take out coffee from the diner so I don’t have to face the electric burner and coffee pot quite yet. Blackie has moved onto the bed making way for me to unpack the air fryer and at least for the moment the flurries have paused so maybe I will get my run in. January is half over, we’re turning the corner and soon February will dawn a bit brighter.

A bit of Deitch Studio effluvia that surfaced this week.

Grandma’s Soup

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I have devoted a number of posts to the cooking of my maternal grandmother, Anne Wheeling, an Italian American who was one in a long line of great cooks in a family of them. (A few of those posts, some complete with other recipes can be found here, here and here.)

Like today’s post, some of these have been devoted to the recreation of recipes from my childhood. Meanwhile, I have not written nearly as much about my father’s mother, Gertrude Butler, however I did write about her recently when I found a photo of her I didn’t remember having seen. (That post can be found here.) Gertie, aka Tootsie, Butler was a tiny powerhouse of energy.

Tootsie in a later undated photograph recently turned up in some papers. I think my father kept this one in his wallet.

When it came to food hers was more of a utilitarian variety than Grandma Wheeling’s and drew on a more limited menu. Our Sunday meals there were generally based around a soup and a rotating choice of roasted chicken, brisket or the occasional turkey. There was often a noodle kugel which was for some reason anathema to me and never crossed my lips! (I wasn’t a picky eater as a child and rarely in full revolt. I don’t know what it was about noodle kugel which made me defiant, although I can’t say it calls come hither to me even now. I remember the smell of it cooking vividly.)

Young Irving, Elliott and Gertie in an another undated photo discovered when my folks were moving several years ago.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, my grandmother worked hard six days a week in the family dry goods store. In retrospect that she produced a full meal for us on the seventh day and was always perfectly turned out, often in a brocade dress as I remember – I think I get my love of clothes and jewelry from her; she liked some sparkle. Her Sunday meals were nothing short of a miracle of commitment and love. I know now from experience that the soup could (and should for maximum taste and texture) be made well in advance and refrigerated or can easily even be frozen. She clearly made it earlier in the week or at least on Saturday. (The alternative to this soup was a quick matzoh ball one which I hope to perfect an eggless version of as well – stay tuned.)

Dessert was marble loaf cake from the bakery where she also purchased her rye bread, or a simple yellow cake she made herself with thick chocolate icing. (There were black and white cookies, but those we took home. Another favorite of my father’s, I was still buying them for him right up until he passed several years ago and I wrote about that here.) After the rather extravagant Italian indulgences of the other side of my family her fare was more simple. However, this soup was a favorite of my dad’s and Grandma taught mom to make it early on.

Mix of dry beans ready to hit the pot.

It would seem that despite or maybe because of her family cooking pedigree mom somehow made it into marriage with only nascent cooking skills. (There are stories about her cooking her first steak and leaving the label on by mistake – and a chicken cooked with the neck and giblets still inside.) Somehow learning from her mother in-law was less fraught I guess. It was a family business to her mother who was, I think, rather no nonsense about it although she softened with age and I frequently watched her in the kitchen for hours.

Grandma Butler had a bit of a mania about healthy eating and mom recently reminded me that she would lecture at great length about the benefits of the chicken in the soup, the eggs in the yellow cake, etc. Grandma was a firm believer that one should not have beverages while eating, it would dilute the nutrition somehow, but there was alway rye or black bread and butter on the table.

Who knew you could still buy these?

This soup was utterly ubiquitous in my childhood. Once the chill of fall set in rarely a week would go by without a pot of it simmering on the stove, containers of it filling the fridge or freezer. The childhood version of the soup always had chicken (or turkey) as the base, the remainder of a dinner the carcass would be thrown into a pot to start the soup. My father liked to add saltine crackers or preferably La Choy Chow Mein Noodles to a bowl of it. I had not actually thought of that in many years. The mixed dry soup beans used to come in a single long convenient bag where somehow they weren’t mixed but in sections.

Tootsie’s chicken based version was incredibly thick and would always need water to thin it after being in the fridge. If my vegetarian version has a flaw in my mind it is that I cannot make it as thick which may not be seen as an issue to all – everyone may not want it thick enough to stand a spoon in. Depending on how thick you like it, play around a bit with the amount of beans and how much you use the blender on. I like to think she would have approved of this vegetarian version – they were Jewish so it was never made with ham or bacon.

Wowza – found the bean mixes online! The miracle of the internet.

So find yourself a week with frost in the forecast and make this soup a day or so in advance. As with most of my soups, toss in whatever vegetables you have – leftovers included. You’ll have enough for about eight servings. Let me know how you like it!

The Recipe:

Soften onion, carrots, garlic and mushroom (celery if using), allow to cook down and brown some. Meanwhile, rinse the beans, trim the green beans and the potatoes. Add the green beans and the potatoes, after those have softened, add the beans. I stir the dry beans continuously and let them cook a bit.

Deglaze the pan with the vermouth or wine and make sure to use a wooden spoon to scrape the pot. Add the stock and allow to come to a boil. Season to taste with herbs below or your own preference, keeping in mind that this vegetarian version probably requires more salt and seasoning than you might typically use. (I use more herbs than my grandmother would have I am sure. I didn’t have flat parsley in the house or I would have added and I think it would be nice.) I used a marash red pepper, but cayenne will do. Let it stay at a soft boil for at least a half hour, adding water if necessary as the beans absorb the water.

At this point I would let it sit for at least an hour, or even more preferably – this soup is best if it sits overnight in the fridge. For a thicker body to the soup a third or half can be blended using a blender or immersion blender – make sure to remove the bay leaf however! I think this is a more satisfying texture, thicker.

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium size rough chopped onion
  • carrots, cut about 1.5 inches, about 2/3-1 cup
  • garlic, to taste
  • mushrooms, sliced
  • halved green beans
  • chopped celery (optional)
  • chopped Italian (broad leaf) parsley (optional)
  • new potatoes, 1.5 inch chunks, about 1.5 cups
  • 1 cup split peas
  • 2/3 cup lentils
  • 2/3 cup barley
  • 64 oz. vegetable stock
  • vermouth or wine, half to two-thirds cups to deglaze the pot
  • dill, oregano, bay leaf, basil, salt, red pepper to taste

Edie’s and Other Jersey Delights: Part Two

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Yesterday, the first part of this tale was devoted largely to the downtown commercial area near the town I grew up in, Red Bank, New Jersey. Now close enough to mom’s house that I can run there, I toured it a bit the other morning, noting the changes since I lived there and also its nascent resurgence since the pandemic. (That post can be found here.)

Today I pick up my story on Friday morning, having been promised a trip to Edie’s Luncheonette for a breakfast post-run. A friend from high school was visiting from the west coast and staying with a friend. The three of us made a plan to have a late breakfast there.

The exterior of Edie’s in a photo found online.

Edie’s is notable to me because it was one of my father’s regular haunts post-retirement. (I touched on Edie’s in a previous post which can be found here.) For some reason Dad staked out Edie’s as his own and for years would eat there, usually breakfast sometimes lunch, several times a week. Weirdly, I had never set foot inside before this Friday morning. Timing was always wrong when I visited my parents back when Dad was still driving and also it seemed like his own hangout. It is close enough to Mom’s house now that I could run there, but that would mean walking home after eating and as someone who is always looking to maximize my running miles, running to breakfast generally doesn’t work for me. (It would be a short run or a long-ish walk.)

A favorite photo of Dad on Mom’s wall.

However, this little sliver of an establishment which has always piqued my interest is perched on an equally tiny smidge of property, hovering at the edge of a ferociously busy street. The tiny triangle of property it sits on merges with an equally busy street just below. It has three impossibly small parking spots in front which you may not use – there are multiple, dire towing declarations. As a result, cars tuck themselves creatively in all manners of illegal spots all around and can be found there all day most days. We parked in front of someone’s house a block away and made our way across the treacherous street.

Old cemetery in a small churchyard next to Edie’s.

The little one-room cottage restaurant has houses to one side and behind it, but on the other side is a church and a very old cemetery. A brick wall protects it from the traffic pounding around it – the cemetery is the tip of the V where traffic merges. It is all a very strange intersection of many things, which I have considered as I drove by over many decades. It would seem that the Edie’s building, one of the oldest in the town of Little Silver, dates back to 1849, starting life as a housing for a tenant farmer, but it is better known for its stint as a general store and post office starting in 1889. In 1928 it begins to morph into a grocery store and then a sandwich counter, and found its true calling as a restaurant in 1970 when it more or less arrived in its current incarnation. (An interesting detailed history of the building and restaurant can be read on their website here.)

Some original details can be found inside, such as a built in craftsman style sideboard in front of the kitchen which fascinated me. Edie’s has a long menu, mostly many variations on omelets, burgers and sandwiches – you can get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich there, or a cup or bowl of daily soup. The fact that you can order Pop-tarts made me laugh. Nothing fancy folks, just the basics.

Pop-tarts and cold cereal! Edie’s will make up a school lunch for you according to their menu.

Mom reminded me that Dad’s order included two eggs over medium and rye toast. I’m sure it also included bacon and knowing the man I suspect he wasn’t entirely a stranger to the french fries. I settled on the eggs, rye toast and cottage fries in his honor. I left the bacon to my friend Suzanne, despite sentiment I am a vegetarian. She had bacon with a “small” stack of three enormous pancakes that looked righteous indeed. Randy split the fries with me and ordered the same eggs. I will say, the simple order of eggs was done to perfection.

My breakfast!

We jammed ourselves into the small room and made our way to seats at the counter. There are only a few tables that can accommodate more than two people and since it was a holiday weekday the place was at close to full tilt. Our perch was a good one though and I got to view the action behind the counter and there was plenty of hustle. I worked a counter like this back in high school and it was a hard job that I remember fondly.

The full counter on display, tables tucked everywhere.

All too soon, breakfast had come to an end and Edie’s had emptied out until the lunch rush. I snapped a final picture and out the door to we went, to wind our way back across Rumson Road.

Mirrored sideboard way to the back. Edie’s ready for the next shift, lunch.

Tootsie

Pam’s Pictorama Photo Post: It’s a family photo day today. This photo of my father’s mother, Gertrude (Gertie or most frequently Tootsie) Butler, turned up in a folder where I must have tucked it when retrieving things from my mom’s house. This is not a photo that I remember being around the house or in any albums, which we had aplenty and looked at frequently. Both the age of the photo and her appearance makes me think it is fairly early, maybe the 1950’s. Her face is fuller than I remember it being for the brief time I knew her when I was a small child. It is sealed in a plastic cover and not marked. If I had to guess I would say it was a wallet photo carried by my father.

She always wore her hair in this style, done several times a week at a local salon. By the time I knew her it was of course also carefully dyed. I don’t remember any stray bits of gray. (What would she have made of my all gray hair I wonder?) She was small of stature, about five foot, and the hair gave her several inches on that. By the time I knew her she did not wear high heels, although she was always shod in beautiful shoes. I assume however that heels were in her past as she was always very fashionable.

My Grandma Butler was always impeccably dressed, her clothes purchased when she bought for the store I am told. I am unable to imagine her in trousers; it was always a dress, usually of a beautiful brocade fabric. (My mother said she once ventured into red velvet trousers, but my grandfather vetoed them.) The bit of fur on her collar in this photo reminds me that she was no stranger to fur and wore a long mink in winter.

Our Sunday meal always concluded with marble cake.

She worked (hard) in the family store six days a week on that, her one day off, she would cook a large meal for us. The menu had very little variation and was somewhat exotic and therefore suspect to my tiny tot taste. It was generally made up of a roasted chicken, her split pea vegetable soup (hers made with chicken stock, I intend to recreate a vegetarian version for a future post) or maybe matzoh ball soup, and often something like a noodle kugel. (I hated even the smell of the noodle kugel which for those of you who don’t know is an eggy, sweet noodle dish. Hers was the only I have ever encountered, but looking at it I don’t think I have changed my mind in subsequent decades.) Bread was either what they would call Jewish rye or a black bread. Dessert was almost always a marble cake, pound cake with a swirl of chocolate.

Noodle kugel with raisons. No idea why this doesn’t work for me.

I cannot imagine she went to the store (Butler Dry Goods in Westchester, NY) less well assembled than she was for those Sunday lunches. She consistently wore bright red lipstick and some sort of eye and brow liner. Tootsie wore earrings, always clips, as her ears were not pierced and, as the person who inherited much of her (almost entirely costume and massive collection of) jewelry she did not favor screwbacks.

According to my mother, Grandma Butler really ran the store and kept the books. Like my grandfather she was a Russian immigrant arriving here even younger than him, right after WWI. She came with her sisters, Jennie and Lily. Jennie was the oldest and my grandmother the youngest – their mother died in childbirth with my grandmother. There were two boys also somewhere in the middle, Moe and Saul. My grandmother had been raised by a wet nurse and did even not know her father when he came to pick her up with a new stepmother, and take her to the United States. Rosensweig was their maiden name. I don’t know what her father did, but that side of the family dealt first in junk and antiques and eventually art.

My mother was very fond of her and I believe the feeling was mutual, despite the fact that my green-eyed and freckled mother, was of an ethnic mix that did not include Eastern Europe or being Jewish, which caused some initial consternation.

It is a bit odd to me that her nickname was Tootsie. In retrospect the idea of calling this formidable woman Toots or Tootsie amazes me. As I child I wasn’t familiar with the nickname and the name had an odd gravitas in my young mind. Meanwhile, my sister and I were Lori and Pammy to her (and no one else) and my father Ellie – mom was already Betty so no change there. I cannot remember what she called my brother who was very young when she died, but I will gamble on Eddie.

I share her love of clothing, jewelry and most of all of antiques. My father often said she would have gotten a kick out of my collecting habits (which have grown exponentially even since he knew it). She haunted the auction houses and their house in Westchester was chock full of oriental rugs (huge ones that were meant for hotel lobbies), silver, tables, cabinets, couches and chairs. Some inherited remnants of the furniture are in my room in the New Jersey house, a tapestry rolled up in the room I work in, along with a black japanned bookcase. One of the immense carpets is also stored in an upstairs bedroom.

Gertie died from an infection as a result of a cataract operation – hard to believe now that it is a procedure done in a doctor’s office which requires a commitment of a few hours, but at the time required a hospital stay. She was relatively young, in her early seventies, and still very vital.

In general I resemble my mother’s side of the family more, but one day in my twenties I caught my father unawares sporting bright red lipstick and I guess for a moment looked just like her. At five feet nine inches and with my hair shorn short at the time I couldn’t see it, but it was a lovely compliment from him I have never forgotten.

San Gennaro

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Occasionally I get the odd idea in my head for a mini-adventure and this weekend I decided to revisit my youth and talked Kim into hitting up the San Gennaro festival in Little Italy. This idea first scratched at the back of my brain when Kim and I were in Chinatown and Little Italy a few weeks ago as banners were already going up for it.

Then yesterday morning I was reading the local version of The Patch (does everyone have this ultra local newsletter? I am amazed by some of the things I find out reading it), which cheerfully informed me that the festival had commenced and would end its run this weekend.

I missed the Fireman’s Fair just blocks from my mom’s house this summer by a few days. I have written about that (here) and again, I haven’t been to it in many decades, but thought we might time a visit right and go but no, it didn’t work. So I guess I had a yen for that sort of thing – cotton candy, candied apples and the smell of fried dough against a background of rides and games of skill and chance. Kim was game so off we went.

For those of you who don’t know, the San Gennaro festival is an annual tribute to the aforementioned saint. This tradition in Manhattan’s Little Italy dates back to 1926 when immigrants from Naples congregating on Mulberry Street brought the festival to this country. Neapolitan’s had long looked to the saint for protection from natural disasters including eruptions from Mt. Vesuvius and he is the principal patron saint of that city. (For the record San Gennaro was martyred back in 305 AD and his miracle is the liquefaction of his blood after his death.)

The official statue incarnation of San Gennaro, surrounded by dollar tributes.

We missed the Mayor and former Astronaut Micheal Massimino in the kick off Grand Procession where the statue of the Saint is brought out for a walk around the grounds as well, complete with (unidentified) relic of the saint. Evidently the stands are also each blessed as the festival opens. All that happens on September 19 which is the day San Gennaro was killed and the beginning of the festivities.

Instead, we tucked ourselves into the hoards of people, early enough in the evening so no one had tipped over into overt and inevitable drunkenness from the impossible large and refillable plastic vessels of sugary well booze for sale. These days the air was also thick with the smell of pot mixing with a lot of more traditional cigar smoke. That combined with the smells mentioned above and a lot of roasting meat contributed to a carnival atmosphere.

Looks like it goes on forever from here but the entire festival is about ten blocks.

My expectations, based on the last time I attended which must have been back several decades (maybe as many as three) were kept fairly low. Kim hadn’t been since his days at Pratt, once on the year Connie Francis was celebrated. He didn’t see her, but they played her records (a selection of her international songs he remembers) and after a quick Google search it turns out that she also attended again in 1982 and yet another time in 2012. She’s clearly a fan of the festival. While we heard a band playing the theme from the Godfather at one point, music was not very much in evidence this year, recorded or live.

There was a smattering of rides with long lines of anxious small children.

I will say I was disappointed by the quality of the prize offerings for the games. No goldfish which is a good thing I am sure, but really uninspired stuffed toys. Usually I can pick out a sort of best of or favorite, but these were definitely bottom shelf. Of course I am a more discerning collector of toys now as well. Just as well as I do not think Kim or I had the skill to achieve in this arena. We did see one guy really having at the bottle knockdown stand. It is beer bottles these days and some were getting smashed.

The best selection of prizes I saw.

I did get a candied apple – one of my goals for the evening. They were much less prevalent than I would have thought, but I found a stand. (There turned out to be two places you could acquire them; sadly they are less popular than they once were.) Kim bought it for me and it was a traditional one with coconut pressed into the candied part. Yum! After breaking into it, and always the challenging part of the candied apple and the most hazardous to dental work. This makes me think in all fairness to my teeth I may not have many more candied apples in my future and will focus on cotton candy in the future perhaps. Kim seemed quietly mystified by my passion and took one adventurous nibble.

A blurry view of my half eaten candied apple.

A young man selling frozen ices from a cooler asked where I had gotten it (clearly a fellow candied apple fan) and I pointed him in the right direction, only up half a block from where we were in the slow moving crowd. He told his female partner to watch the ices and he’d be back in half a block’s time which made me laugh. I like a fellow partner in candied apple crime.

Dinner at the first joint we found outside of the festivals boundaries!

We ended the evening by circling back up and around to Kenmare Square where we perched at the edges of their outdoor dining space and ate a real dinner instead of standing in long lines for plates of fried food, meat or pizza at the festival. It was a satisfying end to the evening’s adventure.

An Ode to the Everything

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I don’t know why, maybe because it is fall, but I have everything bagels on my mind. As far as I can tell, among bagel eaters, there are those of us who will always grab the everything first and those who are frankly horrified by their existence. I guess there are folks between, not sure though.

For anyone who somehow does not know, an everything bagel is one that is covered in a baked in layer of salt, poppy and sesame seeds, garlic and onion. Yum.

As I reflect on it, my memory is that my family emerged into bagel awareness slowly. After all, our WASP town in suburban New Jersey wasn’t exactly a bagel producing mecca. I do remember there being a Jewish bakery, Friedman’s, where we would pick up loaves of rye and black bread every weekend, but they were not bagel makers. (Marble cakes like the ones my father’s mother favored they had, my father’s black and white cookies which you can read about here were also procured there as were my sister’s mocha iced birthday cakes.)

Mocha cake, Loren’s favorite. Was never too easy to find.

At some moment, which I can no longer pinpoint, bagels became weekend fare in NJ too. My father, who grew up on bagels here in Manhattan, was however among those who could not abide everything bagels. I must have discovered them when I moved to Manhattan myself after college and transplanted the preference to my NJ visits. Dad, who would generally pick up a dozen bagels when picking me up at the train station in NJ, would have mine put in a separate bag – so as not to infect the other bagels.

Bagel Bob’s – a much loved Yorkville destination.

While I try to limit my bagel intake in order to maintain my waistline, I still manage a consistent diet of them, if in toasted bits over time rather than a whole one gobbled. Here in New York my affection bounces between Bagel Bob’s on York Avenue (who saw us admirably through the pandemic without pause) and Tal on 86th Street. There are other worthy entries in the neighborhood, but those are the closest and best.

In New Jersey, one of my mother’s care givers supplies the house with some that are very credible entires too. Winsome has registered my everything preference and buys extra for me to take back to New York with me after my regular visits to mom. There is a gentle irony in the migration of bagels from New Jersey to Manhattan, but it is a lovely thought and I appreciate the gesture so much.

Trader Joe’s version of Everything Bagel seasoning.

Recently I noticed everything bagel hummus (the above sprinkled in a light layer on top of the container) which gets my seal of approval – but even better, little jars of “everything” which can then be sprinkled on everything from hard boiled eggs to sandwiches. Not surprisingly, I am a fan and at this moment there are no fewer than three jars in various states of consumption.

Mr. Softee Summer

Pam’s Pictorama Post: By the time you read this I will be heading to Denver for a conference having left at the crack of dawn. However, I leave this summery post in my place. Today’s ice cream post is a bookend of sorts to last week’s running in the heat. One advantage of running through the summer is it allows for the consumption of a certain amount of ice cream.

Long time Pictorama readers (and well, anyone who knows me) are aware that I have a serious soft spot for ice cream. In my world ice cream has no calories and if ice cream is available it should be eaten. Therefore, I generally do not keep it in the house, although this seems to have only a marginal impact on my consumption.

Ryan’s homemade ice cream. Hard to beat!

My taste preferences are eclective – I am not an ice cream snob in the least – however, if you say salted caramel my ears will perk up. But I like a soft serve cone, a bowl of strawberry from a local creamery or something more exotic at a restaurant making their own all equally.

I appear to have inherited my love of ice cream from my father and his affection for it was documented in a very popular post which can be found here. Dad was always up for a trip to the local Dairy Queen and usually had a container or two tucked into the freezer, especially in his advancing years. He went from being a plain chocolate guy to having a distinct preference for exotic flavors with bits of candy bar or cookie. I started as a vanilla girl and now like, well, more or less all of it.

The New Jersey version of my habit is largely centered around trips to Ryan’s whose homemade ice cream I only discovered several years ago. Their strawberry is epic and when the peaches ripen the peach is just heaven. Although if time does not permit a trip out to Ryan’s I might talk my friend Suzanne into a much closer trip to Carvel. When dad was alive Father’s Day and his birthday were often celebrated with a Carvel, Fudgie the Whale of a Cake. Jolly blue icing bits in the one I remember and yummy chocolate crumbly bits.

Fudgie the Whale. I remember some of the piping as blue though…

For many years there was a Carvel near me here in Manhattan, on the corner of 85th and First Avenue, although sadly there is a Starbucks there now. I would stop in for the occasional cone, but they were too far from the office to grab a party cake there. (I did used to bring ice cream to the office at the Met sometimes, but needed to buy it closer – ice cream sandwiches did surprisingly well for delivery, re-freezing and consumption. I would also occasionally grab one or two other people and go across the street where a Mr. Softee is resident for the summer and buy dripping ice cream treats for whoever was knocking around the office on a summer afternoon.)

Mr. Softee on the corner of 86th and Lex.

Unlike people who might find the Mr. Softee tune (generally Pop Goes the Weasel) or tinkling bells annoying, it fills me only with joy. Having grown up in a wealthy suburb it was unusual for him to make his way to us and we generally drove to the Dairy Queen for ice cream, but I hear it not infrequently in the city.

Lots of interesting options although I seem to be pretty stuck on my usual these days. I used to occasionally like the ice cream bars with a coating of chocolate and nutty bits and a chocolate core.

Soft serve ice cream is still sold in the Rumson spot where Dairy Queen (DQ) was, although it has been renamed Crazees. I have not had the pleasure of trying them. In high school I yearned for a job at Dairy Queen which seemed like the pinnacle of cool. Sadly it was a much sought after job and I lacked the connections it seemed. Instead I had to settle for working at a pizza place serving my second favorite food – and consuming large quantities of it.

Still the same barn shaped building but no longer the telltale red and white. Rumson, NJ.

However, this summer has been the summer of Mr. Softee. The extreme heat and humidity and a calorie margin of error that 7 miles of running 4-5 times a week gives me has allowed me to develop the habit of grabbing Kim on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon in search of the ice cream man. A classic vanilla wafer cone with chocolate sprinkles is just right for each of us although on the hottest days you need to eat it with a certain alacrity.

Colorful and somewhat whacky options on the side of the truck.

I understand the while Mr. Softee isn’t suffering from a lack of consumer interest, the rising prices of ice cream and condiments as well as gasoline has made it a difficult living. I can only offer each one I encounter my enthusiastic summer support.

Ode to a Jersey Spot

Pam’s Pictorama Post: I was in New Jersey over Memorial Day this year. Some of you may have caught my video clip of the Memorial Day parade I caught the tail end of while on my run early that morning when I posted it on Instagram. It was an unusually warm Memorial Day and memories of marching dutifully, first as a pint-sized girl scout and then in later years as a member of the high school drill team, immediately came back to me. (It should be noted that the appeal of the drill team was that it allowed me to sport short white boots with purple pom poms, a tiny purple corduroy dress which harkened to earlier decades and appealed to my nascent vintage clothing sensibility – and of course our wooden faux rifles which clicked and clacked in satisfying unison.)

Virtually every annual gathering found us early in the morning preparing to march in the damp chill culmination of a sodden long weekend. I have written about Memorial Day weekend growing up at the Jersey shore before – somehow you had it fixed in your mind that it was the commencement of summer and the beach and were always disappointed as even the end of May can be quite chilly. (That post can be found here.) This year however, beach weather it was this year and I was out for an early run so as not to expire in the heat of the day.

A local home, spotted on my run last week, decked out nicely in bunting for the holiday.

The parade route has evidently moved to Fair Haven. My dim memory was that we started somewhere in Rumson (where I grew up), probably the high school, but definitely not where I found them gathered last week, coming from a different direction. The marchers had gathered and the last groups were getting into formation in a baseball field across from the local middle school at the foot of mom’s street. I run through this baseball field every time I go out as it is the turning point in my run from going north, looping back to the south before heading home.

Just a minute or so of the Memorial Day parade.

I managed to just catch the high school band which was bringing up the rear. It was a great hometown moment and I was happy to pause and record it.

That evening, after some instruction from a friend to ensure I would not blow us up, I tackled breaking in my mom’s new propane grill. My dad was the griller in the family and although I would occasionally act as his runner and lieutenant, and for all my other cooking experience I have personally not been in charge of a grill. Although we had a gas grill when I was a tiny tot, in subsequent years dad was a charcoal man. With Larry’s help (I video taped his instruction for posterity and future reference) I mastered the basics of the propane and managed to pull a credible vegetarian grilled meal together. If I can get it hot enough I can cook on it.

My maiden voyage on the new propane grill.

All this must have put me more in mind of my high school and college years in New Jersey. It was a certain kind of nice warm night and suddenly I thought of a place we used to frequent constantly called The Inkwell.

Somewhat incongruous in the environs of Long Branch, which was at that time a somewhat down at the heels beach community, The Inkwell was a coffeehouse harkening to the great tradition of coffeehouses of the ’50’s and ’60’s. It existed in a fairly stock format house and frankly I was always a bit surprised to see how it looked in the daylight because largely one was only ever there in the middle of the night. It was a constant on date night rotation, an inexpensive evening out. At night it exuded a come hither cool of a kind that was the siren call leading the likes of me to a life in New York City I guess. (Apologies for these low-res photos snatched from some local articles about the closing.)

The memory of not only cheerfully drinking endless cups of coffee (occasionally hot chocolate in winter) in the middle of the night back when evidently insomnia was not a yet a fact of life, but that the coffee was also topped with an enormous dollop of whipped cream. Oh my gosh! Well, waitressing and long days walking on the beach must have burned all those calories and still allowed me to sleep soundly.

I know we also ate food there sometimes, but what that was is utterly lost to me now and I guess it wasn’t really the point. I suspect it was along the line of onion rings, fries – maybe a burger as I still ate them back then. We were always hungry after late nights at the restaurant however and I think of the endless stacks of pancakes we consumed at diners in the wee hours of the morning more often.

Something they called a Dutch Coffee which was the drink of the house.

However, you were at The Inkwell for coffee. No alcohol was served or allowed on the premises. In retrospect, it was a great option for high school kids. Although people of all ages were always there, generations of customers who frequented it over the years.

I have not even thought of it in decades really. Until the past year when I head over to stay with mom throughout the month, my adult visits to New Jersey have been almost universally a day or two in order to see my parents. I have not stayed in touch with anyone from high school who settled there who I might see socially while in town. One ex-boyfriend, Sam, who I saw through much of high school and college, died a few years ago. (It wasn’t clear, but it seems like maybe it was suicide sadly.) I had not been in touch with him since we broke up while I was in college. Other friends have either drifted way or moved to distant locales.

A night view more along the lines of what I remember.

I am still close to my good friend Randy, an artist who shuttles between San Francisco and Los Angeles these days and who I first met in high school; he is one of my oldest friends. Kim and I just saw him on a visit to Manhattan and I get together with him whenever my job takes me to the west coast. Back in our Jersey days we worked at the same restaurant (I wrote a little about that summer and job here), and we would hit the diners mentioned above (one had oddly orange pancakes, never figured that out but they were good) and/or The Inkwell.

I don’t think I could have found it again on my own. Despite being a non-driver I remember most routes, but I am wuzzy on this one.

A recent photo of Randy Colosky at work in his west coast studio.

Anyway, I texted Randy and told him I was thinking of The Inkwell and our many trips there, even of the car he drove back then and that it was that sort of night in Jersey. He responded promptly and we had a nice impromptu text visit, late-ish night for me, early evening for him. One of the joys of our contemporary world.

On a whim yesterday I looked up The Inkwell and was surprised to find it had closed a week to the day of the evening I was thinking about it and texting Randy. Seems that over the years it had evolved to serve a wider menu of food but was largely unchanged. They remained popular and made it through the pandemic (outdoor service expanded into a yard where I only remember there being a porch before) and were closing for other undisclosed reasons.

I learned, not surprisingly, that Bruce Springsteen had frequented back when I was, or just before as his ascent to fame had already grown beyond the local. Kevin Smith the filmmaker (Monmouth County denizen and owner of Red Bank’s comic book store, Jay and Bob’s Secret Stash) was still a customer in recent years. There wasn’t much to do in Monmouth County – bars, beach and The Inkwell.

The photos bring it back fairly well although of course it had changed over time too. My memory was more toward old wooden mismatched chairs, classic red-checked table cloths with candles on each table, and Christmas lights year round. I don’t remember the first person to take me there although probably Randy’s older brother Ken who I dated for awhile. It was an excellent way station on the road to adulthood though and I am sorry I didn’t get a last visit in.

Nestlé

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It’s a sunny Sunday after a dreadfully rainy sleety snowy Saturday here in New York City. So I sit down to write with the sense of optimism that prevails on a sunny day after a rainy one.

Meanwhile, I have had this item in my possession for months now where it has perched on my desk, waiting to see what role it will play and what it will contain. I spotted it in a background shot of items being sold by @missmollystlantiques and she was willing to sell it to me. I especially like its glass top where the 2 cent price is posted. 2 cents!

Top view of the tin.

Pictorama readers know I cannot resist a good box. My post on a Krak-R-Jak Biscuit (also purchased from Miss Molly, the post can be found here, as I am one of those folks who still mails cards. The appeal of a box is like catnip to me – I’m equally bad about cabinets. (A post on one display case I bought a few years ago can be found here.) Things that can contain things seem like a win-win to me and I can always justify their purchase in my mind. For some reason I am convinced I always have space for them.

Snatched this up from an article about the early expansion in the popularity of chocolate after WWI.

A quick look at the Nestlé history reminded me that it is a Swiss company. Shortly after college I was working in a kitchen at the Drake Swiss Hotel in midtown and little Nestlé bars with the hotel’s logo proliferated so it shouldn’t be news really. I think it was the first time I had considered Swiss chocolate as an export. The company’s history starts with the merger of two makers of condensed milk and baby food in the 1890’s. The chocolate production and a role in the birth of milk chocolate, so says their site, follows in 1904.

Early advertising with kitties interested in the condensed milk product.

While always happy to consume it, as a child I nonetheless admit I found Nestlé a poor relation to my true heart’s desire Hershey; the hard working denizens of Pennsylvania would be glad to know I am sure. I liked the crunch (that model appeared in 1938) added to the Nestlé bars however, but they had a more delicate flavor than the robust explosion of a Hershey bar. I did go through a period of affection for Kit Kat bars, also made by them, while living in England. Again, it was the appeal of the crunch – great with a cup of tea for a pick me up in the afternoon.

This is probably pretty close to the earliest wrapper of my candy bar eating past. I will say that their Quik for making chocolate milk was my top favorite in that food category.

Frankly it has been a very long time since I have eaten either, the chocolate I am more likely to encounter these is a wider variety. Bags of Lindt, both milk and dark chocolate, have come my way as gifts recently; my mother has boxes of sugar-free chocolates at her house (surprisingly good, especially if you stick to the nut filled and caramels), the occasional organic bar from Whole Foods crosses my path. In fairness it should be noted that my diet does not allow for the unabashed eating of chocolate however, having found that eating chocolate leads to ultimately eating more chocolate, leading to more of me.

The best remaining side view of the box.

Despite my childhood loyalties, this tin tickles me. Your 2 cents could buy you a plain or almond “block” of chocolate – two sizes shown on the side of the tin, nuts making the smaller (fatter?) bar. Sadly only one of the painted sides is still in relatively good shape, jolly red and yellow paint. For some reason the magic of reaching into the glass top container and pulling out a chocolate bar is still evoked when I look at it. Perhaps that is why I have had trouble filling it with any of the mundane flotsam and jetsam of my desk. I am thinking I may take it to mom’s house in New Jersey where I am still constructing a home office for the days I am there. The accumulating pens and post-its may take up residence there, but the images on the tin tickling a desire for a treat.

Ode to a Fry Pan

Pam’s Pictorama Post: On New Year’s Eve I scrubbed my fry pan which had, after a sticky encounter with two Beyond Burgers, been soaking in the sink overnight. To my deep dismay, the handle began to wobble ominously, about to come off. I knew that this ten inch stainless steel friend was, after three and a half decades of virtually daily use, breathing its last.

There are, needless to say, many loses far worse than a fry pan and even I am a bit surprised at the depth of my sadness about its departure. It came to me as a graduation gift from college, part of a set with two sauce pots, a soup pot of a kind of stainless steel pot sets that are sold by department stores like Macy’s. There were lids that the soup pot and fry pan could share and sported a lid for the larger of the two pots. (That lid mysteriously disappeared during our kitchen renovation which I wrote about in a post you can read here. Kim and I really have no idea what could have happened to it and it took us awhile to realize it was really gone.)

My kitchen shortly after renovation in the fall of 2019.

They were a handsome group with reinforced bottoms and they distributed heat nicely. To a large degree I learned to cook with that set of pots. The pots and pans were a gift from my friend Suzanne who I credit with launching me with some early cooking lessons. During last week’s stay with Mom in New Jersey I told Suzanne of the pan’s demise. I’m not sure she remembers giving them to me although she allowed it was possible and certainly understood my sadness at its impending demise.

As someone who was trained as a professional cook I have undeniably put my pots and pans through their paces over the years. Uncomplainingly that fry pan has sauteed endlessly with a high flame under it. Countless piles of chopped onions and garlic have been softened in it, no smell like that few minutes when you start to cook something – perhaps the tang of tomato hitting right after the onion and garlic, or mushrooms piled in, the pan later to be deglazed again and with a bit of wine, scraped with an ever darkening wooden spoon. It will always be the smell of home to me. (I always remember one of the chefs I cooked with saying that you should never deglaze or use wine in a sauce you wouldn’t drink.) The pan is blackened on the bottom from high heat and flame, although the inside remains shiny.

Overgrown dumplings in a root veggie stew.

Pictorama readers know that Deitch Studio is resident in a glorified single room, perched high in a building in the Yorkville section of Manhattan. The small space devoted to the kitchen, an area that is by my own account generally fairly topsy turvy, but where I manage to spew out a series of soups, stews, pan roasted vegetables and even the occasional bit of baked goods daily. (Some posts complete with recipes can be found here, here and here.) These pandemic years have resulted in even more meals made and the pots have stood nobly by.

The tiny quarters of the kitchen has kept my toolkit of implements tight however and, other than a roster of sheet pans as I seem to just kill those off every few years, I have only added a small, lidded sauce pan and a much smaller skillet I acquired over the years – the small skillet was a wedding gift as I remember. (There also is a non-stick pan made of a mysterious material that arrived on our shores, black with white flecks. Works well, but I wouldn’t subject it to high temperatures.) The sauce pan was purchased after one of the two from this original set was left on a burner and damaged, although it has as it turns out, remained in rotation despite that. There is no pot storage in this kitchen and therefore the few pots and pans generally remain piled on the back of the stove, waiting their turn at use, as seen above.

The pan was designed with a handle at the front, to help heft a heavy pan full, perhaps lifting it from the oven. Oven friendly, it has done its time roasting food in the oven too – there was even a time, decades ago now, when I still ate chicken and would occasionally roast a small one or parts in it, adorned by carrots, small potatoes, maybe green beans, onions and garlic. (I believe it housed fried chicken once or twice too, my grandmother’s recipe which involved flouring it in a paper bag. I was just discussing that recipe with my now vegan mother the other day.) The front handle popped off while scrubbing it about a year ago. It seems it was a warning sign over the bow, alas.

I have known this pan longer than I have known my husband Kim and it has been a quiet companion of my entire adult life. Unstinting in its service first to single me and then to us; in it I can see my twenty-two year old self, setting up my first apartment and cooking my nascent solo meals. Still, practically speaking a skillet with a loose handle is an accident waiting to happen. I considered my options for speedy replacement as this pan is in service everyday. Remarkably similar sets appear to be available online, but fewer where an individual pan could be purchased and it is hard to trust the heft of a pan to an online purchase. (A recent purchase of a coffee pot resulted in one with metal so thin I cut myself badly on it the first time I cleaned it.)

The All-Clad replacement pan.

In the end I chose an All-Clad ten incher. The two most recent additions mentioned above were both an All-Clad pot and pan and they are well made without question. It is a magnificent pan, and if treated well these few guys will probably outlive me. The New York Times Wirecutter named the 12-inch the best fry pan a week later, further cementing my certainty that was a good choice. Still, I know cooking with it will be different, sloping sides containing less and different heating time. It will take some adapting. The fry pan arrived via William Sonoma yesterday – handle poking assertively and somewhat comically out of the side of the cardboard box, itching to get out.

Meanwhile, I just thought the fry pan of my youth deserved some recognition today. It has served admirably and owes us nothing, and it will be missed.