From The Desk of The A.G. (A Day of Letters)

July 23, 2008 | By | COMMENTS

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Dear Craig Claiborne,

I am greatly enjoying your somewhat notorious autobiography, “A Feast Made For Laughter.” Sure, it’s a little creepy when you talk about touching your dad’s erect penis while sharing a bed, but I appreciate your zeal for people and food. Case in point: early in the book, you tell a story involving Parker House rolls. Your brother passes you a basket of them and instead of taking the basket from him, you start to reach your hand in and take one out and your brother, appalled, drops the basket to the floor saying: “When anyone passes you a basket of bread, you take the basket. Or at least you touch it as a gesture of thoughtfulness.”

This passage amused me because it’s a good story, but mostly it made me hungry–hungry for Parker House rolls. I cracked open “The Joy of Cooking” and found the most basic recipe in the world; a recipe that required only yeast, butter, flour, sugar, salt and milk. I’d write out the recipe here, but it’s so standard any internet search will suffice. And those rolls–which took a few hours to rise–were quaint and comforting, the kind of food you want an American food icon to eat. Thank you for inspiring me to make them; I look forward to the rest of your book.

* * * * *

Dear Josh,

We are friends and working on a big secret project together. Recently we talked about sour cherries and I told you that you should buy them whenever you see them, that they’re really special and prized by chefs and foodies alike. Then, on Sunday, you left me a message saying you were at a farmer’s market with sour cherries and that you were thinking of buying them but that you didn’t know what to do with them. If I had felt my phone vibrating, I’d have told you to either make the sour cherry jam I made a few weeks ago or, perhaps more enticingly, this sour cherry cobbler:

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It’s an awesome cobbler and super, super, amazingly easy. I combined two recipes: this one and this one. From the first recipe, I followed the directions for the filling; from the second recipe, I followed the directions for the topping except instead of boiling water, I added buttermilk (which I had in the fridge) until the dough became like standard biscuit dough. No matter how you do it, though, a sour cherry cobbler is a great idea and a perfect way to instantly gratify yourself with sour cherries. If you can delay your gratification, make jam.

* * * * *

Dear Readers,

Your comments on my Grand Sichuan post inspired me to break our routine on our last visit there. It took some work to pry Craig away from his precious Gui Zhou Spicy Chicken and Dried Sauteed String Beans but once he tasted your suggestions–the tea-smoked duck:

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And the sauteed Chinese broccoli:

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He acknowledged that there was probably more to Grand Sichuan than just his few favorite chosen dishes. That duck, I have to say, is among the best I’ve ever had; the meat miraculously moist, the skin crispy and juicy. “Can we get this again next time we come?” I asked. “It’ll be part of the conversation,” he answered.

We still started the meal with pork soup dumplings; replacing those would’ve ended the relationship.

* * * * *

Dear New York Magazine,

You’ve long been my favorite resource for “Best Of” New York food compendiums; most of my regular haunts were gleaned from old lists–your best bagel is now my best bagel (Murray’s), your best pizza is now my best pizza (Franny’s.) But I have two bones to pick about this year’s “Cheap Eats” issue: (1) I don’t love the organization: large, general categories like “Burgers” and “Tacos” put alongside more specific, eclectic categories like “Cut-Rate Locavore” and “Budget Bistros” makes the list seem arbitrary and confusing, not to mention the giant blocks of text jammed into each section so the eye must jump through a million hoops before settling on a single selection–I’d have preferred a list organized by geography or, as you’ve done in the past, just single awards for very specific categories so the text is isolated and pops out; (2) I don’t believe that the food in your High-Low $20 Showdown really cost $20! C’mon: one guy bought lamb chops and salmon and strawberries and asparagus and beer not to mention all the seasonings (brown sugar, salt, and cumin) for under $20? And the other guy bought chicken, lamb, merguez sausage, farmer’s market arugula, fromage blanc, bacon, onions, eggs, and rhubarb for under $20? It is not possible! I challenge anyone to create any of these menus (in the portions shown in the photograph) for under $20. It can’t be done.

* * * * *

Dear Jimmy & Lauren,

It was fun seeing you both this weekend for brunch at August. Here you are at the table:

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Lauren, you and I shared this pain perdu with strawberry-rhubarb sauce and whipped cream:

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And this frittata with lamb and peas:

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I didn’t love the texture of the pain perdu; it was a bit chewy and doughy and the sauce on top was a bit cloying. This is the kind of thing you eat for breakfast and feel bad about later.

The frittata, on the other hand, was fantastic. I’d never imagined that lamb and peas would taste good in an egg dish, but they worked incredibly well here: the lamb was savory and tender, the peas bright with bursts of springy flavor.

The service, I must say, was exceptionally kind: I got there early and in the Sunday heat I was a pile of sweat. The hostess not only got me a glass of water but she led me to the table before you guys even got there, an unusual gesture on a Sunday morning at a popular New York brunch spot.

We went afterwards to look at glasses at See, and even though you guys liked this funky yellow pair on me:

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I ultimately decided they were a little too weird; Craig said they make me look jaundiced. But you, Jimmy, actually bought a pair and I hope they serve you well!

* * * * *

Dear David Lebovitz,

I made your pickles!

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They brined in my cabinet for two days; I used the brine mixture from The New York Times that you linked to (among many others). I think those specific seasonings might’ve been a little too Christmasy for a Jew like me (cloves, ginger, etc.) so next time, I will try to make a more authentic Jewish pickle. Also: how come there’s no vinegar in the brine? Is that standard?

* * * * *

Dear David Chang,

A few weeks ago, I ate at Ssam Bar with friends and we had your Blondie Pie for dessert:

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I expected a pretty standard white brownie with some whipped cream on it. Instead, this sent me into a tailspin of ecstasy: the texture was like a cross between toffee and fudge, the flavor was sweet and strangely salty but in a wonderful way, like a salted caramel way. I want this recipe. I doubt you’re reading this, but maybe someone who works for you is reading this? Maybe someone who knows someone who works for you is reading this?

* * * * *

Dear Someone Who May Know Someone Who Works For David Chang,

Please get me the recipe for the blondie pie. I will love you for ever and ever.

Sincerely,

The Amateur Gourmet

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  • LisaInCT

    Dear Adam,

    I *loved* this post. It had variety, humor and yummy food. Filled with information, fun and great pics. What more could your readers ask for? A food bloggers version of short stories (that made sense!)I sure hope you do this again.

    (And I agree with Craig, I don’t care for the yellow frames on you.)

  • http://www.davidlebovitz.com David

    Hey, don’t blame the linker if you don’t like the recipe, blame the linkee.

    I’ll have to give you a hands-on lesson for the real kosher dills when I come to NY in October.

    And I’m going to want Sichuan duck, too

  • carey

    Dear Adam,

    I love you, I love you…but if you don’t clean your stove and your backsplash, I don’t think i can read you anymore. Pictures of splattered food along side your beautiful creations are just too “Amateur”!

  • carey

    Dear Adam,

    I love you, I love you…but if you don’t clean your stove and your backsplash, I don’t think i can read you anymore. Pictures of splattered food along side your beautiful creations are just too “Amateur”!

  • carolyn

    Oh my god! Your letter to Craig C. was absolutely hysterical!

    Thank you for brightening an otherwise dull day at work.

  • Joel S

    This was a great post…humorous, serious, variety, and lots of great pictures.

    Now….real kosher (style) dill pickles never, ever have vinegar in the brine. My grandmother used to make them from time to time (using real Mason jars), and if my memory serves me, the brine contained water, salt, dill weed, garlic cloves, pepper corns; and sometimes each jar had a single red pepper. That was it!

    For the best commercially jarred, almost as good as homemade, in California we have Bubbies Pickles. They do have a website, and I do not know how wide their distribution is, but they are way better than Clausens or Vlasic!!! Taste like they came from a barrel.

  • http://www.thecleverchef.net Devlyn

    Foods to be pickled with lots of water in them like cucumbers and cabbage don’t need vinegar – the brine exchange creates an acidic bath for the pickle-ee. I used David’s recipe on mine, too (and I’ll be making more tonight – with double garlic), and let them sit for 4 days, and they were fantastic.

  • http://www.annienewman.typepad.com Anniesnyeats

    Dear Adam, I knew you knew who Craig C. was! for more about CC and Pierre and all the gang, read “The United States of Arugula”. You’ll enjoy it.

  • http://www.onehealthylifestyle.com Randy

    Wow. Delicious!

    The broccoli (although my mortal enemy) looks good.

    Well done.

  • http://www.mashedpotatoesandmerlot.blogspot.com Kristin Murdock

    I love writing in letter form – this was a fun read full of fun information and opinions!

    Thanks!

  • http://www.kathycasey.com/blog Kathy Casey

    What great pictures! The letters are a fun read. Thanks!

  • lo82070

    The Joy of Cooking Parker House Rolls are the only rolls I have ever made. I am not a baker (living at high altitude doesn’t help). They turn out yummy and great though.

  • http://mattskitchen.typepad.com Matt

    I loved the letters, especially the Craig Claiborne-cringeworthy- brush-with-an-erect penis (not the good kind) reference! Yikes!

  • http://thefoodmonsterblog.blogspot.com The Food Monster

    Hi Adam,

    Thank your for writing this post. I couldn’t have picked a better one to let you know, that I have nominated you for the Brillante Weblog Award, 2008. You can check my blog, http://thefoodmonsterblog.blogspot.com for details. Congratulations, and keep on producing top quality posts.

  • http://www.fauren.org Lauren

    The Parker House is diagonally across the street from the office building where my dad used to work. We went for special occasion dinners a couple of times when I was a kid, and the highlight of each meal was seeing how many rolls my sister could conceal on her person and take home. I’m sure they’d have given us a little bag of them if we’d made enough sad puppy eyes, but this method was way more fun.

  • http://www.spicedish.typepad.com EB

    “Christmasy” pickles?

  • Craig

    I bake my rolls in a muffin tin instead of a sheet pan. It helps them have a beautiful and even shape.

  • Priscilla P.

    I’d love to vote for Rochelle!!! Her food looks delishhhhh.