He has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary. ~William Faulkner (about Ernest Hemingway).

Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words?
~Ernest Hemingway (about William Faulkner)

This post is not intended to be overly didactic or pontific. That capricious punctuation mark that separates words large and small, the comma, does not lend itself to such stringencies. Commas have been used since ancient times, but the modern comma descended from a revered Italian printer, Aldus Manutius (1449-1515). He also laid claim to italic typeface and the ever underutilized semicolon. Before the comma, the oblique virgule (/) — still the French term for comma — denoted a natural pause in speech. While committing Greek masterpieces to type, Manutius dropped this inclined slash lower relative to the text lines and crafted a distinct dot with a gentle metaphorical curve tailing down to the left. The new mark acquired the name comma, a word derived from the Greek komma (κόμμα) which means “to cut off.”

Always adaptive and even idiosyncratic, textual rules have been historically lax for commas. Over time, comma protocol became more codified and emphasized consistency over tonality. For instance, commas have been used to separate independent clauses when a conjunction (e.g., and, but, or) is used in a compound sentence. With appositives and parenthetical phrases, commas are crucial. Serial commas have also been used to separate listed items before the word “and” in a sentence. While some grammarians have insisted upon a squiggle there, others have not.

How punctuation rules have changed over time sometimes appears a matter of whimsy. In recent years, rules of thumb seem to be fading and a more laissez-faire approach has returned. More rules tend to be broken than followed in modern prose. Commas are again being inserted by ear and seem more attuned to individual style and meter. When in doubt, sound it out and listen for natural pauses and rhythms.

This recipe aims to gently kindle the hsien, those altruistic souls who promote munificence. The givers, not always the financial ones though. I have a hunch they love pancakes (and openly dislike or feign subservience to Trumpsters, otherwise known as takers).

Homey stuff.

RICOTTA PANCAKES WITH MEYER LEMONS & BLUEBERRIES

2 C all purpose flour
3/4 C sugar
Small pinch of sea salt
1 t baking powder

4 egg yolks
1 C+ ricotta cheese
3/4 C whole milk
2 Meyer lemons, juiced
1 Meyer lemon, zested

4 egg whites
Pinch of sea salt

Butter
1 pint fresh blueberries

Pure maple syrup

Sift together all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. In another bowl, mix the egg yolks, ricotta, milk and lemon zest and juice. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir/fold until combined.

In another bowl, using a whisk or electric mixer, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt to stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the flour mixture, so the pancakes will be light and fluffy.

Preheat griddle or sauté pan.

Melt butter onto the preheated griddle, then spoon or ladle the batter onto the prepared griddle to desired size. When the pancake top shows bubbles and then holes, it is ready to flip. Sprinkle each pancake with a few blueberries and press down lightly. Then, flip the cakes and cook until the bottom is golden as well.

Serve on plates and drizzle with maple syrup.

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A tavola non si invecchia (“You do not become old at a table with friends and family”)
~Italian proverb

Aptly named, Piemonte derives from the Medieval Latin Pedemontium (“at the foot of the mountains”). Lying at the base of the Alps, Piemonte is bordered by France and Switzerland to the west and north, as well as Liguria, Valle d’Aosta and Lombardia to the east and south (and a sliver of Emilia Romagna).

Once home to Celtic-Ligurian tribes and later Gauls, it was absorbed by the Roman republic. After the fall though, it was invaded by the Burgundians, the Goths, Byzantines, Lombards, and Franks with incursions by the Magyars and Saracens. Piemonte was divided by warring feudal lords before the House of Savoy, whose holdings included Sicily and later Sardinia, consolidated and ruled the region for centuries. Later, the region became a French client republic, was even annexed by France, and then was again restored to the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piemonte. Finally, Piemonte became a springboard for Italy’s unification (il Risorgimento) beginning in the mid 19th century, with Torino even briefly becoming the capital of Italy. By the end of World War I, the states and regions of the boot agglomerated into one single state of Italy. Given this cross pollination, little wonder that cuisine there reigns supreme. That is just the shortened skinny, so my apologies to valid historians.

A haven for gastronomes, and while decidedly Italian, Piemonte sidles up to and has historical bonds with France. So the region has a culinary culture tinged with and subtly influenced by Provence (and vice versa). Even occitan is the spoken language by a minority in the Cuneo and Torino valleys, and franco-provençal is also spoken by another minority in the alpine heights of Torino.

From rugged peaks to gentle sloping hills to plains, the cuisine conforms to seasonal changes and regional anatomies, confluences. The Po River collects the waters flowing from the semicircle of mountains (Alps and Apennines) which surround Piemonte on three sides. The fertile Po valley plain creates the dense rice paddies near Novara and Vercelli. Fruit orchards abound and garlic grows effortlessly here. The vines of bold, elegant reds such as Barolo and Barbaresco grace the region.

Piemonte is home to zabaione, panna cotta, bagna cauda, white truffles, agnolotti, snail and leek casserole, polenta, risotto, confections and artisanal chocolates, tajarin (egg yolk rich pasta) — just to name a few. Unlike southern Italy, tomatoes might as well not exist here.

Bra, a town and commune nestled near Torino, is home to the “slow food” movement, a response to the fast food revolution. Slow Food occupies the crossroads of ecology and gastronomy, ethics and pleasure. A way of eating and living, it is a grassroots organization with supporters around the globe. Slow Food was founded to counter the recent rise of the fast life, the exodus of local food heritage, and the dwindling enthusiasm for food — its origins, scents, flavors and textures. (You know that common, but bizarre tableau of shamelessly gobbling down a double quarter pounder with bacon and “cheese” with an order of large fries or two and a huge coke in hand while winding through noon traffic between appointments.)

The movement fosters food biodiversity, encourages local culture, develops nexuses between farmers and producers, opposes multinational agribusiness, educates about food, and organizes food events. It ponders and acts upon how food choices not only affect individuals and families, but the world overall. Such admirable work with nary a shred of sanctimony. Be grateful.

While universal in scope, there are local Slow Food chapters called convivia. Each convivium arranges functions ranging from simple dinners to visits with local farmers to conferences and courses promoting Slow Food’s tenets. Other networks give a voice to small farmers, breeders and fishers whose approach is geared to the movement’s principles of connecting community to the environment.

“Slow Food unites the pleasure of food with responsibility, sustainability and harmony with nature,” proclaims Carlo Petrini, Slow Food founder and president. Once again, the food abides.

Seemed only à propos to salute the egg here — especially local, coop coddled ones. First, hardboiled eggs marinated in olive oil with garlic, herbs, and anchovies, followed by that sublime trifecta of mushrooms, cheese and eggs.

UOVA ALLA PIEMONTESE I (PIEDMONT EGGS)

6 hardboiled eggs

2 C extra virgin olive oil
1/3 C fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
1/3 C fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1/3 C fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, separated, peeled and minced
1 T balsamic vinegar
4 fine anchovy fillets, drained and chopped

2 C extra virgin olive oil

Place eggs in a heavy, medium sauce pan, and add enough cold water to cover by 2″ or so. Bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered. Immediately remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 12 minutes. Drain hot water off eggs and then carefully transfer eggs to a large bowl of ice water to halt the cooking process. Then dry thoroughly with a kitchen towel. Gently crack the eggs and peel under cool running water, taking care not to mar the white. Put the peeled hardboiled eggs in a bowl.

Whisk together the parsley, rosemary, sage, garlic, balsamic vinegar, and anchovies. Then, while whisking vigorously, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Pour the emulsion over the eggs in a mason jar, close tightly and refrigerate overnight or for a day. To serve, cut eggs in half lengthwise, put an egg on each plate, spoon over some oil, and savor with crusty artisanal bread.

UOVA ALLA PIEMONTESE II

3 1/2 T unsalted butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1-2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 C wild mushrooms or crimini, cleaned and thinly sliced
Pinch of sea salt
1/4 C dry white wine

1/2 C Fontina cheese, thinly sliced or grated

4 eggs
Water
White wine vinegar

In a heavy skillet, add butter, olive oil, garlic and bay leaf over medium high heat. Once hot, remove the bay leaf, place the mushrooms, sauté over high heat, add salt, sprinkle with the wine and allow to evaporate. Spread about half of the cooked mushrooms into four ramekins and layer with a few thin slices of Fontina. Set aside the ramekins and the unused mushrooms and cheese for later.

Preheat oven to 400 F

Fill a large, heavy skillet deep enough to cover the eggs with water. Bring to a simmer, and add the white wine vinegar. Crack each egg into a shallow bowl or saucer to assure they are not broken. Then, using a slotted spoon, spin the boiling water into a sort of vortex. Once the water is spinning rapidly, gently drop the egg from the bowl in the center of the whirlpool, where it will spin around and coat the yolk in a ball of egg white. Cook until the eggs are barely set, about 2 minutes. Remove the eggs, draining well with a slotted spoon and dab the bottom with paper towels to dry.

Carefully put the poached eggs into the ramekins already partially filled with mushrooms and cheese and then add the remaining mushrooms and Fontina. Bake just until the cheese has melted and serve.

Undoubtedly the desire for food has been and still is one of the main causes of political events.
~Bertrand Russell

Perhaps nothing arouses my appetite more than cheese, a passion that borders on the obsessive, even compulsive. Cheese stirs the nub of my food soul and plunges me into deep rooted, over the edge cravings. So, after so much luscious Asian fare recently, withdrawal symptoms are encroaching. A cheese binge is in my near future. Seems I’m now unapologetically and thankfully suffering a relapse. My yearnings demand that I seek out and indulge in those hedonic usual suspects like mac & cheese, pizza, gratin dauphinois, panini, bread gratin, frittatas, calzone, cheeseburgers and friends. Or those simple, divine pairings of bread and cheese. My lust is indiscriminate — blissfully indentured to cow’s, sheep’s or goat’s milks, divergent origins, and differing textures.

These hankerings are just another example of how that enigmatic and insatiable gray matter controls impulse. Neural processes are directly linked to all things sybaritic, from whetting your appetite to quenching your thirst to sating sexual urges. When incited, the mind is motivated to search for those things we need, crave, and desire whether corporeal or intellectual.

The nucleus accumbens, a part of the primitve limbic system, plays a pivotal role in arousal, whether that high is derived from food, sex or drugs. If you ache for a certain food, if your urges are kindled, you are sparking the nucleus accumbens with a surge of electrochemical activity which courses throughout your nervous system. Then, you tend to act on that yen.

Each cerebral hemisphere is fitted with one nucleus accumbens, located in an area called the medial forebrain bundle (MFB) which is composed of a complex grouping of axons endlessly conducting nerve signals. Working in concert with other pleasure centers, this region plays a crucial role in the reward circuit, based chiefly on the release of essential neurotransmitters: dopamine, which promotes desire, and serotonin, whose effects include satiety and inhibition. Because it mediates punishment and reward, the area has been often studied for its role in addiction, as in cheeseaholism. Also coming into play are the amygdala (imparting agreeable or disagreeable colorations to perceptions), the hippocampus (the font of memory), and the insula (thought to play a role in active pleasure-seeking). A constantly firing cerebral amalgam of arousal.

The first recipe is tapas fare, and the second a basic which so depends on the bread and the cheese…so simple, yet ever so delectable.

FRITO QUESO (MANCHEGO)

1 C all purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 C fresh bread crumbs or panko
3/4 lb Manchego cheese, cut into 1 1/2″ to 2″ cubes

Canola oil

Sea salt
Honey or lavender honey
Pimentón agridulce (moderately spicy paprika)

Divide the flour, eggs, and bread crumbs into 3 separate dishes. Dip the cheese cubes into each ingredient to coat: flour –> eggs –> bread crumbs.

Meanwhile, in a large heavy saucepan or Dutch oven, pour enough oil to fill the pan about a third of the way. Heat over medium heat until a deep-frying thermometer inserted in the oil reaches 375 F.

Add the breaded cheese to the hot oil, in batches, and deep fry until the cubes are golden and crisp on the outside, oozing on the inside.

Remove the cheese from the oil and drain on a rack or paper towel lined baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Transfer the cheese to a serving dish, drizzle with honey, and lightly dust with pimentón.

THE GRILLED CHEESE SANDWICH

Unsalted butter, softened
8 slices artisanal bread
10 ozs Taleggio cheese, rind removed, at room temperature, divided into equal portions

1-2+ T unsalted butter

Spread butter onto one side of each slice of bread. Top buttered side of half of the slices with cheese, then arrange remaining 4 slices of bread on top, buttered side down, to make sandwiches.

Melt remaining butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium high heat. Reduce heat to medium low, then arrange two of the sandwiches in the skillet. Cook until golden brown on the first side, about 3 minutes, pressing down gently with a spatula. Flip sandwiches, adding another tablespoon of butter to skillet. Continue to cook until golden brown on the second side, about 3 minutes more. Repeat process with remaining butter and sandwiches. Serve warm.

Pourboire: While the basic grilled cheese is my fav, you can add proscuitto, sliced apples, olives, caramelized onions, cooked bacon, sautéed peppers, capers, braised radishes, arugula, eggs, avocadoes, sautéed mushrooms, etc., are all welcome between the sheets. Just keep the fixings to a minimum.

Reason respects the differences, and imagination the similitudes of things.
~Percy Bysshe Shelley

Deceptively simple yet complex, aromatic gàgà heaven in a bowl. Phở Nạm Bò (beef pho) was the talk earlier here, but it should be remembered that before the French incursion, cattle were cherished beasts of burden in Vietnam. They tilled rice fields and were not usually slaughtered for fodder. More of a pollo-pescatarian society except for the divine sus. So, the Việts have also embraced the less extravagant, more native, and still luscious chicken kin, Phở Gà — which is embellished with more or less depending on the region. While each kitchen ladles its own brand of phở, the further north, the focus is on intense, clear broth and far fewer garnishes. Less bling in Hà Nội than in Hồ Chí Minh City bowls.

Was phở born of feu? Some opine that the word phở is a corruption of the French feu (“fire”). So, maybe phở is a local adaptation of the French pot au feu or beef stew. As with pot au feu, cartilaginous, marrow rich bones and roasted vegs are simmered for hours to make a broth with the scum skimmed and discarded. Not a stretch really.

CHICKEN PHO (PHO GA)

1 – 4 lb chicken or leg thigh quarters, excess fat removed
Chicken back, necks, or other bony chicken parts
2 qts chicken broth
1 qt water

2 onions, peeled & quartered
3 – 1 1/2″ slices ginger, also sliced lengthwise
2 T coriander seeds, toasted
6 cardamom pods, toasted
6 star anise, toasted
2 cinnamon sticks, toasted
4 whole black peppercorns, toasted
4 whole red or pink peppercorns, toasted
4 whole green peppercorns, toasted
1 lime, quartered
4 stalks lemon grass, crushed and sliced
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
4 sprigs fresh mint leaves, stalks bound
6 sprigs fresh cilantro, stalks bound
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Pinch of sea salt

1 T fish sauce (nước mắm nhi)
2 T raw sugar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 lb flat rice noodles (bánh phở)
Sea salt

Garnishes
Hoisin sauce
Hot chile sauce (e.g., Sriracha)
Lime wedges
Bean sprouts
Scallions cut in half, then lengthwise into tendrils
Thai or small Italian basil leaves
Thai or serrano chiles, stemmed and thinly sliced
Cilantro leaves, roughly cut
Mint leaves, roughly cut

Preheat oven to 350 F

Arrange onion quarters, rounded side down, and ginger pieces on baking sheet. Roast until onions begin to soften, about 20-25 minutes. Cut off dark, charred edges if any. In a heavy, medium pan over medium heat, carefully toast coriander, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon sticks and peppercorns until fragrant.

Leave whole or cut chicken into 6-8 pieces or so. To make the broth, put the chicken, back, neck or other bony parts in a large, heavy stockpot. Add the remaining ingredients (onions, ginger, coriander, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, peppercorns, lime, lemongrass, garlic, mint, cilantro, red pepper flakes, salt) and bring to a boil then reduce to a simmer. Throughout the process, use a ladle or large, shallow spoon to skim off any scum that rises to the top. Cook until the flesh feels firm yet still yields a bit to the touch, about 25-30 minutes. Carefully lift the chicken out of the broth and place into a large bowl or on a deep platter. Keep the broth at a quiet simmer.

Once adequately cooled and the chicken can be handled, remove the chicken skin, pull the chicken off the bones and set the meat aside in a foil tented bowl. Do not cut into smaller pieces yet.

Return the leftover carcass and bones to the broth in the pot, add fish sauce (nước mắm nhi) and raw sugar, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Adjust the heat to simmer the broth gently for another 1 hour. Then, strain the broth through a fine mesh sieve or a coarse mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth into a saucepan. Discard the solids and again use a ladle to skim fat from the top of the broth. Leave some fat for flavor.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the noodles and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Cut the cooked chicken into slices about 1/4″ thick and bring the broth to a gentle simmer in the saucepan. Now build…nest noodles in bowls, arrange the chicken slices over, and ladle the broth on top. Then, serve promptly with whatever garnishes suit your palate (hoisin, sriracha, lime, bean sprouts, scallions, basil, cilantro, chiles, mint and friends).

Watch film? Savor jazz? Take in ball? Follow politics? Ofttimes too much psychic energy is spent on the star, with short shrift given to the supporting cast. So when food scheming, give pause to your sides as they tend to elevate, even eclipse, the leading roles. On that note, throw down some grilled or roasted riffs next to the mains in your medley. Then have a close your eyes moment.

Onions can make even heirs and widows weep.
~Benjamin Franklin

GRILLED ZUCCHINI, YELLOW SQUASH, EGGPLANT & ONIONS

1/2 lb zucchini, sliced 1/2″ on the bias
1/2 lb yellow squash, sliced 1/2″ on the bias
1/2 lb japanese eggplant, sliced 1/2″ on the bias
1/2 lb yellow onions, peeled and sliced 1/2″

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil, to coat well

Red pepper flakes, to taste

Fresh basil, parsley or mint cut in chiffonade (ribbons)
1/2 lemon (optional)
3-4 T pitted Nicoise olives, chopped (optional)
Goat cheese, crumbled or parmigiano reggiano, grated (optional)

Season the zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant and onions with salt and pepper, and then toss or brush thoroughly with olive oil before preparing grill.

Prepare a medium hot grill. Grill the vegetables on each side until the slices are tender, but take care not to overcook. Remove from grill, carefully arrange on a platter, and sprinkle with a pinch of red pepper flakes. Arrange grilled vegetables on a platter or plates. Just before serving, slightly drizzle with lemon juice, strew with chopped olives, add a few goat cheese crumbles or a grating of parm, and scatter your herb of choice over the grilled fare.

Pourboire: once the tomato season arrives (not soon enough), feel free to add heirlooms to the mix — a grilled version that just somewhat resembles classic ratatouille.