Today's Question?


What is your favorite bottled hot sauce?

Please post aswers in comments below.


Ron Zacapa 23 Rum

If you like to have a little sip every now and then, we enthusiastically recommend Ron Zacapa rum aged at The House Above the Clouds in the pristine mountains of Guatamala.

Simply delicious, deep dark sweet flavor. Highly complexed. Color that entrances the eye.

Me and Ms. Greene

Photo: Ethan Hill for The New York Times

Gael Greene you may know as a foodie. One of the first tier over the top originals of that species. She was restaurant critic for New York Magazine from 1968 to 2002 (Basta!). We share her aversion to foams, but mostly the lady strikes us as way too florid in her prose about what’s to chew. To put it her own way, a pen with butter for ink. Think, fussy finicky food fetishist. But, that’s us. Cooky Cat is finicky and fussy in his own inimitable way. So we won’t throw any more stones.

Anyway, we once had a nice lunch with her nibs. But, first some background.

I was an Ad Biggie in the Big Apple some time ago, around the Mad Men era. It was one of the perks of the job to get complimentary magazines delivered to your home. One day I arrived back to Casa Wronski to see in my latest New York Magazine a contest eligible to advertisers and industry types (not tipped into the regular newsstand editions). The challenge was to unscramble the letters to spell the correct names of ten of the magazine’s top ten restaurant advertisers. Then you would be judged based on how creatively you packaged your answers. The prize was lunch at the restaurant of the winner’s choosing; and, as it turned out, with Ms. Gael Greene herself and Mr. George A. Hirsch, the founding publisher of the magazine.

Always up for a creative challenge, one Saturday me and the little lady toodled off in our bouncy Citroen 2CV city car to collect match books from each of the restaurants whose scrambled names we previously had locked down. Then I constructed a colorful Paris style columnar kiosk complete with a pointed turret top and pasted the match book covers all around. This I placed inside a tall box with a top rigged so that when it was pulled off the four sides would drop away to reveal the matchbook decorated kiosk inside. Think voilà! And, Ta Da!

And, can you believe it, we won! Match that!

Our choice was Café Chauveron, then a top NYC restaurant. Here is the Insatiable Critic’s own review of that erstwhile great place, Cafe Chauveron as Love Object.

On the appointed day we met Ms. Green and Mr. Hirsch at the restaurant. I don’t recall what we actually ate, but two things I do remember.

If you have had the exposure you will know that Gael Greene was a shooting star celebrity critic in the New York City culinary world. One must pay proper due. She was the expert at our table; don’t make any mistake about it. While scanning the French language menu, I read out loud, “Champignons”. Gael, without a second’s pause quickly translated, “Mushrooms”. Well, I already happened to know that, but didn’t say so. It just struck me as her smart, perhaps sly way of, as they say, making me her bitch. Lovely. I’ve been a big fan ever since. Not. Maybe she was attempting to be helpful, and I am being not too kind. But, even so, one shouldn’t assume one’s guest is ignorant and (even worse) be too quick to enlighten. Word!

But the kicker came later at the dessert course. Ms. Greene ordered the chocolate mousse. To die for she said; and it was. A big dollop of dark airy creamy rich soft chocolate mousse served in a squarish shallow chocolate cup. After having a taste Gael called for the waiter. Per my approximate recollection, “This mousse, it seems different. Are you using the same chocolate?” When the waiter returned with the answer to that weighty question he smilingly reported that, indeed, the usual chocolate for the mousse was not available and this was made with a substitute.

OMG! Holy crap! That is one sophisticated palate. My first take was that it was a set up designed to shock and awe (I was a cynical adman, after all).  But, again, I performed my part like a gentleman and beamed my deeply impressed approval her way. But, come on, Gael.

What was the truth of it, we’ll probably never know. Nevertheless, dear Gael Greene, thanks for the memory.
Eat More Mangu!

Once upon a very long time ago we travelled down in Dixieland. When I saw a certain bumper sticker I had to have one for my own. Ours was the only Land Rover in the New York City area (perhaps, the whole wide world) with “Eat More Possum” prominently featured on its rear bumper. My then wife was a good sport. (But, maybe, not that good; she done up and left me.)

So, today, my bumper sticker of choice would have to be “Eat More Mangu!” It is made with boiled green plantains (let them fully ripen or buy them already ripe for Platanos Maduro), often served with breakfast garnished with pickled sweet red onions. 

Per the Urban Dictionary, “Mangu is a contraption of the expression Americans used when they first tried it during the USA invasion of the Dominican Republic in the early 20th century "Man Good", hence "Mangu".

You know why I like plantains? Because they have appeal.

Here is the ever effervescent and charming Daisy Martinez to take you all the way home.

Bols Jenevers

When in Amsterdam not long ago we ordered a draft beer with our supper at the SmallTalk Café late one rainy Autumn afternoon. When the cheeky waiter brought our beer, he saw to it it came in the smallest pony glass. Very good, let’s play get the tourist. We were quite charmed and he then came back with a pony of Jenever, on the house. Nice exchange, don’t you think? Those Dutch as such kidders.

 Anyhow, Jenever. The father to English gin, but smoother. Sippier. Especially the Corenwyn Jenever, one of the aged varieties from the old House of Bols. We brought back a bottle from the duty free shop and it is now only a fond memory. Alas also, it doesn’t seem to be available retail in the United States. We’re on the lookout, but it is available online from overseas distributors.

Shake It!
Shake It Good!
Shake It Right!

Finally we have learned how to properly use that most essential of cocktail making tools, the Boston Shaker. It's the one to have. We were totally nervous and mystified about how to open it up after shaking. Now we know.

Also, you'll need the de regueur Hawthorn Strainer as pictured above.

Lastly, if you lika the cracked ice, the Lewis bag, for the love of God. (Who put those names on?) Lastly, lastly (really) something what to smack the bag; a fine master joiner mallet, but of course.

Enough with the accoutrements, let's get movin'.

Look and Learn . . .

Orange Syrup for Homemade Soft Drinks

We always have a bottle of Lowicz Orange Syrup ready to make a sweet and tangy orange soft drink.

Insist on Lowicz brand, it is superior, with a true orange flavor; slightly bitter for an adult taste. Usually available in Polish food stores. (Distributed by Brooklyn Imports, Carlstadt, New Jersey.)

Polish Blonde not included.


Tacos Jalisco

In Phoenix our top choice taco shack is Tacos Jalisco, the original spot in the largely Mexican Paiute section of Scottsdale. There as you place your order you can see the busy kitchen with mountains of one kind of meat or another cooking on one flat top and a deft hand filling orders at the other stove top warming tortilla upon tortilla. The original Tacos Jaliscos is a small, true hole in the wall, mostly Mexican patrons and in-the-know locals. Mas Sabor. It is also the kind of place that you could expect to be raided by Sheriff Joe and his posse at any time. Have your papers with you when you go. And if you don’t like to mix with the hoi poloi, it would not be your kind of place.

But, seriously, this place is great. The service is friendly yet business like. Everything is fresh, fresh, fresh. It's a busy kitchen, but your order comes out in minutes. Come on in and choose from a great assortment of delicious and well priced dishes. They have a choice of drinks: fresh fruit agua frescas, horchata, and jamaica. Or a real sugar recipe imported Mexican soft drink.

When your order arrives you will be called. Help yourself to the salad bar with a choice of home made salsas, cut pieces of radish, and house made fried jalapenos and a vinegary escabeche mixture of garden vegetables.

Mas Sabor!

Photo Credits:
Soft Tortillas de Nopal
Fusion Chili Con Carne Machaca Style

David Wronski writes:

[He goes on a bit, so be patient. If you are feeling a little, ahem, parched by the extensive and digressive verbiage, there is a refreshment at the very end to make it all worthwhile.]

These ideas come from those two enthusiastic presenters of their respective cuisines. Rick Bayless, and the vast repertory of the Mexican cuisine; and Daisy Martinez and her beloved recipes from homeland Puerto Rico.

This is written as more of an idea starter. Inspiration? You tell me. Modesty prevents me from stating that. My approach to recipes is to give the highlights and expect the reader to either be knowledgeable enough to take over, or that an Internet search will give all the chapter and verse.

As the former co-owner of one of the early proponents of fusion cuisine, The Polish Pavilion, even now as an enthusiastic home cook our kitchen sees a lot of mixed metaphoriphication, culinary-wise. Proponent? I say originator, just that we didn’t call it that. We just did it. The coinage came later. And, mind you, we didn’t make too much coin for our efforts. But, don’t get me started. I’ve moved on.

I got the inspiration for tortillas de nopal from watching a TV episode of Mexico, One Plate at Time with that mole sauce-smoothy Rick Bayless. He, together with Diane Kennedy have been at the forefront of spreading the word that Mexican food is a great, rich and varied cuisine; not just your drive-up taco joint kind of thing.

Not that there is anything wrong with a taco joint. In Phoenix the cityscape is dotted with the likes of Filibertos, Robertos, Rolibertos, Rambertos, and probably by now several other “Bertos” derivatives. Also, to mention the taqueria trucks with their late night after hours followings.

In Phoenix our top choice taco shack is Tacos Jalisco, the original spot in the largely Mexican Paiute section of Scottsdale. Check it out. There as you place your order you can see the busy kitchen with mountains of one kind of meat or another cooking on one flat top and a deft hand filling orders at the other stove top warming tortilla upon tortilla. The original Tacos Jaliscos is a small, true hole in the wall, mostly Mexican patrons and in-the-know locals. Mas Sabor. It is also the kind of place that you could expect to be raided by Sheriff Joe and his posse at any time. Have your papers with you when you go. And if you don’t like to mix with the hoi poloi, it would not be your kind of place.

I would be remiss to not mention the burritos at the Scottsdale Chevron gas station/convenience store on the Pima Indian Reservation at the intersection of Pima and Chaparral roads. The red version is a slightly stringy (machaca style) beef infused with spicy red chili; the green, that beef with mild Hatch New Mexico chilies. I always look askance at anyone overpraising any food, but those tacos are at their own level. The native ladies do know how to wrap it up.

Anyway, on his program Mr. Bayless was in Mexico with a family making flour tortillas infused with pureed nopal cactus paddles and garlic butter. Our own first attempt resulted in a dough that was a little too hard to handle. In my attempt to be sure that there was a good dollop of nopal in the dough, it came out too sticky to manage well even in the trusty tortilla press. Certainly it would not be manageable for hand rolling. Next time we’ll hold back on the liquid and go for a drier texture dough. For hand-made tortillas you need it very thin when it goes to the heated pan to finish. Otherwise, not cooked through the center. Also, next time we’ll try this combination for corn tortillas. By the way, in our preparation we lightly cooked some finely minced garlic in home-rendered lard. Yes, lard. If you haven’t heard it’s good for you, Google it. But, please, home-rendered, or rendered by some reliable butcher. Never those packaged blocks. Those are just for boat launching and college toga party favors. As you can see in this link small production tortillas de nopal are being made with the flour of the dried nopales. The readymade packaged tortillas de nopal have not arrived on our eastern shores as far as we know. Besides, home-made is best. Now to search out masa seca nopal. Wish me luck.

The second item is chili con carne. The recipe for your everyday killer chili con carne comes to us from a friend from Texas. (Click here for that recipe.) But, while it stands alone, it is also a basis to get to a great chili. Where the original called for coarse ground beef, Mr. Bayless put the idea in our head to make it machaca style: slow cooked well-trimmed shoulder cut beef browned then braised in a chili infused sauce, fork shredded to finish. Machaca, as we prefer it, is rather dense with a seriously reduced sauce. The better to fill a taco, my friend. If you want it to be a more stewy-soupy bowl of chili con carne, make more sauce or don’t let it reduce so much.

The variation from ground beef is an improvement because it brings a little more bite to the party. Also, since we love braised beef shoulder roast, we’re thinking the machaca style treatment will bring more beefiness to the dish. And, what guy doesn’t want to bring more beefiness to his dish. Conversely, what dish doesn’t like more beefiness. But, enough of the double entendres.

Speaking of dishes, enter dear Daisy Martinez. She’s to Puerto Rican cuisine what Bayless and Kennedy are to Mexican. From Daisy we get that culinary staple, sofrito. Per herself, ”This is the one indispensable, universal, un-live-withoutable recipe.” (Click this to see her recipe.) From that we prepared a blend of onions, cilantro, culantro, garlic, aje dulce sweet peppers, mild long green frying peppers, and tomatoes. We found some dried hoja santa leaves at our nearby Mexican market and tossed in a few of those leaves. That pureed blend we added to the basic chili con carne sauce recipe. We browned the beef in oil, set the browned beef aside, then infused it with annatto before adding in chopped onions, minced garlic, cumin, chili powder, paprika, and Mexican oregano. Instead of store boughten chili powder, we pureed toasted deseeded guajillo chilies. You can also mix and match from a wide variety of dried Mexican chilies. There is a whole world of chilies in the Mexican kitchen. (Here is a quick reference.) Also, we have some good Korean and Middle Eastern chilies and freely add them in when chilies are called for, regardless of what region the recipe comes from. Fusion, n'est-ce pas? Or, like, you don’t have to only cook Chinese food in a wok, do you?

So here it is. A soft tortilla de nopal filled with machaca style chili con carne. To serve you could butter the tortilla first, perhaps an optional schmeer of refried beans, a bed of shaved iceberg lettuce, then fill with the machaca. Top with grated cheddar or cheso blanco, some chopped hard cooked egg. Finely diced white onion, chopped cilantro leaves to top it off.

Eat, enjoy. Repeat as necessary.

Washing it down: Here we have it from that most interesting man, cervesa por favor.


Dave’s Chuckwagon

Chili Con Carne

Time was my family owned some farmland. When we drove up from the city to visit the property many times along the way I saw a group of people by the side of the road in a small vacant country lot cooking in a huge pot over an open fire. It was an arresting and memorable sight for this city kid to see such an old timey kind of activity as cooking over a wood fire out in the open.

That sight got me to thinking and fantasizing about doing something like that on our farm. Cooking out in the open, everybody sitting around on logs and enjoying some hot savory vittles. Telling stories, singing, some live music. Voilà, “Dave’s Chuck Wagon.”

After all this time we’re content to leave that idea as a fantasy. The farm is no longer a farm, but smack dab in the middle of a busy commercial interstate intersection.
But, here is a recipe for Chili Con Carne that would fit right in under the stars sitting on an old log by the fire, spooning up some spicy chow from an enameled metal bowl. Skillet corn bread to accompany, of course.

Gen-u-ine Texas Chili Con Carne

The following recipe is modified for the average home. The original, as prepared by me under Mr. Geddie’s supervision was served at a block party in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn in the early 1970’s. The version we made that fateful day was called Polecat Chili. If you are a purist you can use the quintessential polecat, or even a possum. Squirrel will do; just. But I would stop there, and not suggest alligator or any kind of lizard. And, please, this is not some gay affair (though there is nothing wrong with that) that you stack on a plate over toast points and grilled marinated Portobello mushrooms, with a garniture of sherry infused figs over mescaline in a curry fume under a spun sugar dome.

JUST TOSS IT IN A BOWL, OK? And, most definitely we are not recommending any illegal game, such as some of the wonderfully delicious wild birds. [The story goes about the new game warden in the territory who stops an old timer who’s toodling along with a dead whooping crane strapped to the front fender of his jalopy. “You know, mister, it’s a federal offense to kill one of those birds. It’s an endangered species. I’m new in these parts, and so I’ll let you go with only a warning. But, by the way, how does whooping crane taste, anyway?” “Not bad. But I prefer Spotted Owl, and the missus is partial to Bald Eagle.”]

Net, net . . . This is the basis for a really good chili.

Per Mr. Geddie: I don’t have a specific recipe for Chili Con Carne. If you will remember, it is a work in progress. However, here is how I usually make it:

1 ½ pounds of good meat, usually sirloin, ground “chili grind” size which is larger than hamburger size.  If the place doesn’t know what chili grind is then have it ground only once.

A big Onion (or two if you like lots of onion)(chopped not so fine)
A couple of cloves of Garlic (pressed)
A big dose of chili powder (6 oz. or so)
Some Cominos (ground Cumin)
Some good oil, like Canola or Grape seed oil. Lard. Hell ya.
A little salt
Some Cayenne Pepper

Using a large pot, heat some oil (not a lot – just enough to keep the meat from sticking) and cook the meat, onions and garlic together until the meat is browned. Then stir in chili powder until the meat has a dark color (anywhere from 3 to 5 oz. probably). Add a dose of cominos as well (probably a tablespoon or two). Mix it all up with the meat continuing to cook over a medium flame for a minute or so. Then add water until the mixture has a thick soupy texture (don’t use too much water or it will have a thin soupy texture). Start tasting it right away.  If you have not put in enough chili powder then put in some more, remembering that it is easier to add to this mixture than to take away from it. Plain chili powder isn’t usually all that spicy hot. It generally has a little cayenne pepper in it but not a lot. You can spice it up to taste by adding a little cayenne. As you can see, the quantities are dictated a lot by the strength of flavor you want to have. For example, I like a lot of onions and cominos, but others might prefer less of either or both.

Cook the mixture over a low (low!) flame for 4 – 6 hours.  Freezing it for a few days is supposed to enhance the flavor.

I inquired about the use of Masa Harina (corn flour used for tamales). It does have a distinctive flavor: Masa Harina works like Cornstarch.  If you need to get it thicker (that is, if you accidentally added too much water) then use it.  Or, if you decide not to use beans, then use it. Wick Fowler used to put in some masa harina with his five alarm chili mix for that purpose.

Serving Suggestions: Over Fritos with chopped Onions and grated Cheddar. Or, my favorite, over steamed white Rice with chopped Onions and grated Cheddar. [I interject again to suggest the addition of chopped egg. The idea for that accompaniment I got from the old Caucus Club Restaurant in Downtown Detroit. Right across the street from the erstwhile London Chop House, where I was introduced to the ritual pleasures of the whole steamed artichoke with vinaigrette dressing. Which is also a great dressing for Tête de Veau Vinaigrette as served covered in a pure white napkin at the once Café Des Sport in New York City. But that’s another story.]


Jersey-Boy Gourmet

Not far from our digs is the Wine Library in Springfield, New Jersey. Besides an extensive, well priced wine collection they are our go-to favorite for their excellent cheese department, featured as part of the specialty foods department, the Gourmet Library. Not just an extensive selection of cheeses from around the world, but a knowledgeable and helpful staff. Expect old world, personal service.

Here is an excellent video demonstrating that even a coupla Joisey guys know a thing or two about wine and cheese.

Hey, Joe!

While at Whole Foods recently we went to their coffe bar and asked for a large. Since we like a good amount of milk to tame their typically deep dark brew, we requested the "barrista" to warm up the milk (to be sure the finished drink would still be hot). When the young man asked for $2.95 we questioned the price for a large ("vente") and discovered we were being charged for a cafe au lait. A buck more to warm up some milk? Come on.

In this computerized world definition and terminology rule. You couldn't sell a rose by any other name.

There are still many Hispanic restaurants around our neck of the woods that prepare the most delicious cafe con leche for anywhere for one dollar or so. For those in the hinterland, a cafe con leche is a shot of espresso and steamed milk. We prefer it sweet. Ask for that at a Starbucks and add two to three dollars for the special handling.

Sometimes you just want a cup of coffee. Value added marketing is a boon to the consumer, what with all the choices and options for things. But when you are being served at a profit first kind of place, its mainly a boon to the stockholders. Some franchise places are so calibrated that any step outside the usual comes with a price add on. Some workers at such places are so robotized they can only think in the categories given to them by the boss.


Thin Crisp Flat Bread
The Open Faced Sandwich

If sliced bread is the carrier or, more prosaically, the "delivery vehicle" for what goes in the middle of the everyday sandwich, then thin crisp flat bread is sliced bread's naughty cousin. Those skinny little things that like to parade topless with all sorts of tempting treats on display.

As mama used to call them, "open faced" sandwiches.

We envision a groundswell resurgence in popularity of the "open faced" sandwich. Better term would be canape. Pictured above is just the tip of the iceberg for ideas of how to create an open face sandwich.

We heartily recommend Wasa Thin and Crispy Flatbread. Get the one pictured. It is as thin as a postcard with a nutty flavor. So called mouth feel is excellent, breaking apart quickly with a bite.  

The Chinese Chef Knife

Our friend David Wronski has a standing volunteer assignment to sharpen the knives at a vegetarian kitchen at an undisclosed location somewhere in the Big Apple. There, some two dozen+ knives see a lot of service. Inspired, we brought out our set of cutlery for a much needed sharpening. Among them, the trusty Chinese chef knife.

We rediscovered the joys of this unique implement.

If you haven’t used a Chinese chef knife and you are a home cook, we highly recommend you get one. This type of knife is usually made with a carbon steel blade and takes a sharp edge. The heft of the large blade itself behind the sharp edge makes for very precise slicing and speedy dicing. The square far point of the blade gives a nice pivot for the medium length edge for mincing. The large flat surface of the blade makes for easy pick up of the prepped ingredients.

It takes a little getting used to, but it will be a friend for life. (NB: Not to be confused with a cleaver, which is similar but built for chopping dense foods and through bone.)

Please don’t go off and spend hundreds of dollars on a Chinese chef knife. Somewhere around $25 or so should get you as good a one as you could ever want. If you want a better knife, Wüsthof makes a nice one. Be sure the handle and blade are attached with a sturdy bolster (we like a brass bolster on the less expensive versions) or full tang with riveted handle on the better/pricier ones.

Here is master chef Martin Yan showing how it is done . . .

And more . . .

Pêche Poussé

A friend went out to a fancy French restaurant looking for an amazing meal, spare no expense.

“Please won’t you prepare your very best dishes for me, chef’s choice.”

Course following course. Every one, a triumph. Each, better than the other.

Finally, the dessert course . . .

The maître de arrives tableside with a cart on top of which is a pyramid of the most exquisite, colorful ripe Peaches — Texas Peaches — precisely placed on a gold tray surrounded by pink roses. He is accompanied by a gorgeous young lady wearing a peachy pink outfit with a short skirt with lots of ruffles and petticoats. The maître de selects the prime most Peach, inserts a fork into it and proceeds to peel the juicy fruit in one deft movement. He then smugly presents the peach to the diner.

On cue the young lady lifts her skirt. It is clear to be seen that she is not wearing any panties. And, as smooth as a peach herself. The maître de gently places the juicy peach between her soft ingénue thighs, whereupon she proceeds to wriggle and writhe, squirming and gyrating around the peach between her legs.

After quite a long time she stops and the maître de lifts up the peach and exclaims, “Voilà, monsieur, Pêche Poussé!”

Shocked, the man blurts out, “No way am I going to eat THAT Peach!”

The maître de diplomatically rejoins, “Ah, monsieur, the PEACH . . . you do not eat.”


In Amsterdam, I Got Hooked

This from a good friend . . .

Amsterdam. Damn! Just a short visit and I left with this monkey on my back. A taste for that rich aroma and flavor that is all too easy to acquire throughout that ancient town. Strolling through that reputed "district" you tantalized me with your promises of earthy delights. I succumbed. Now back in the good old US of A I save up for a trip to my secret source to get a hit of that old stinky that you chained me to forever. Amsterdam. Damn. 

[Basta! We must interrupt. If you are thinking what we are thinking, this guy has taken up the wacky snacky of choice in the old cheese city. But, in fact, he is merely speaking about his acquired taste for certain culinary treats from that old Flemish town. Now to continue the tale . . .]

On a shopping trip on our visit to Amsterdam in the beautiful Jordaan neighborhood we came across Caulils at Haarlemmerstraat 115.

Per an internet food critic “Caulils delicatessen & catering is the address in Amsterdam for the conscious connoisseur and stands for pure, refined and responsible. The selection of products and dishes are composed with passion and taste and a true love and passion for food. The store sells fantastic raw-milk cheeses, various meats and unique wines.”

It was there that I got hooked. The drug of choice in this instance, Gouda cheese. Not just your ordinary young Gouda, but aged. The older the better. Grainy, slightly sweet with a hint of caramel yet sharp, a deep lingering finish. The hospitable cheesemonger there was most gracious, offering samples freely. We even tried a farm house variety made in rare old wooden molds. Very rustic and grassy.

Those Goudas and some other rare soft creamy cheeses, a little Charcuterie, and we had a picnic on our hands. But, what's a picnic without a good knife? Fortunately, Coulils carries a nice selection of the de rigueur folding picnic knife from Opinel, an old time French maker. Click here to go to their romantic website.

Back home in New Jersey we have discovered the cheese shop at the Wine Library in Springfield, New Jersey. Just got back home with some Goudas to replenish the stash, a 5 year old and an XO. 

Signing off now. Must enjoy.

PS   Travelling back from Amsterdam, besides our taste for their great cheeses, we brought home a bottle of Bols Corenwyn Geniver, a 6 year old cask aged specialty Genever. 

Unfortunately, it is not distributed in the United States. The bottle we brought back home is now empty. Maybe that means another trip to The Netherlands?

While we’re on Genever we also found a very fancy little shop in Amsterdam H.P. de Vreng en Zonen, a company started in 1710. There we purchased a small bottle of 15 year old, called Gelagerde Genever. There’s a little left, so all hope is not lost. CLICK here to go to their website and be astounded by the range of very rare liqueurs and fancy gift bottles.

Breakfast, Mas Sabor

Pictured here is the quintessential breakfast per our friend David Wronski:

Savory Breakfast Soup (Click for recipe).
     Nutritional Yeast for soup.

Stewed Chinese bitter mellon (with onion, tomatoes, ginger, Indian spices).

Chewy onion bialy.
     Horseradish cheddar cheese spread from Barney Greengrass, the Sturgeon King.
     Bee pollen topping.
     Leatherwood honey straight from Tasmania.

Not pictured, fresh brewed coffee a la Melita.
The Candy Kitchen
Poletown, Detroit
And Me, the Kid

Watercolor on paper (18 x 24) courtesy of multimedia Artist: Michele T. Fillion

There is something waiting for you at the very end of this. If you are not in the mood to wramble right now, so go there, please. But, there are some other presents along the way. Guaranteed to please. And, hey, I didn't write this for my health. Reading is good for your brain.  

I grew up in a neighborhood of the Detroit inner city known as Poletown, the famous community of Polish immigrants first settled in the 1870’s. Almost all of it was flattened in the early 1980’s to make way for economic development. They paved paradise and put up a… Cadillac factory.

The whole of Poletown was razed to accommodate the new Cadillac plant. Up until that time the existing factory in another part of town was a very antiquated multi-story structure and the new plant was constructed in the modern, more efficient single level design. At the time, the then mayor planned placing the new factory in that spot as an urban development project and as an important tax revenue source for the city.

[There’s the story of a low wage working stiff in Detroit who saved and scraped up his whole life to buy a brand new Cadillac when he retired. On that happy day as soon as he took ownership and drove it off the dealer’s lot, a persistent irritating knocking noise developed. He brought the shiny behemoth back to the dealership to fix, but nothing could be found. After many more visits and not a little expense, the exasperated fellow had the service center literally tear the car apart. They finally found it. There inside the door was a loose nut, but not a piece that was part of the car. Tied to the nut was a note: I hope you have a hard time finding this, you rich sonofabitch!]

I recently learned in looking into the history of the demise of Poletown that the church of my baptism, Immaculate Conception, was the site of a sit-in protest against the razing of the neighborhood and all the forced relocations. None other than Mr. Ralph Nader joined the campaign to save Poletown.

"On Bastille day, July 14 1981, the police assembled an armada of forces and at daybreak began to seal off the neighborhood preparing to evict those occupying the church.”

The Immaculate Conception Church was a small gem in my old neighborhood. My grade school was directly across the street and we went to Holy Mass every school day. I was an altar boy there and even had to serve at Mass during the summer months. There is a lot of church deep in my blood. Read Why Can't I Be Good for more of my Catholic school daze.

The centerpiece of the altar was a most beautiful and graceful life sized statue of the Blessed Mother. I visited Detroit recently when we had a funeral service for my mother. Saint Hyacinth is the church where my mother was married and it seemed fitting to have her Detroit family and friends congregate there for her memorial service. A very nice surprise I found there was a small chapel niche where the statue of Mary from Immaculate Conception is installed. Along with her flanking angels and some sections of the communion rail from the demolished church.
The side altar including statues of the Blessed Mother and angels from Immaculate Conception.
Saint Hyacinth Roman Catholic Church 3151 Farnsworth Detroit (Poletown) Michigan
But, when I was a boy, Poletown was also my hood. And a certain candy shop was my church of sweet refuge. There are so many other deeply felt and precisely recalled memories of that neighborhood. But I want to remember one that was for me as a boy an integral part of the richness of life, and particularly so during the Easter season: The Candy Kitchen.

The Candy Kitchen of my youth is also gone. I don’t know if it closed when the owners retired, but I do know that it is buried somewhere under the Cadillac Poletown factory. It was located on a corner at the intersection of Chene and Trombley streets. Across the street from the Chene and Trombley Lanes where I learned to bowl, when school boys worked as pin spotters, and on Friday evenings there was an excellent fish fry on the restaurant menu.

And just down a few doors was the barber shop where most of my preteen hair was shorn. I mention that place because of some vivid memories. I recall how it was lined with mirrors on each side of its length. The effect was psychedelic, you could look and see a progression of reflections out to infinity. Do you ever wonder what is there when one mirror faces another? Kind of like... if a tree falls in the woods and you're somewhere else (or, a bear is in the woods and does something, who would know what is was like?). My brother's friend Bob had this ultra cool flat top brush haircut. His was particulary excellent because he had this major widow's peak at his front hairline and it made the flat top look, well, really cool. Bob said he went for his hair cut at a shop that was the mecca of flat tops, specialized in them. My own barber could never quite get it to my satisfaction. When you say flat top, you want FLAT on top. Capiche, Italiano? Once out of his own exasperation with me, and taking advantage of his adult status, he embarrassed me in front of all the waiting clientele by putting, really plopping, a telephone book on my head to guage the flatness. I didn't have the nerve to press further to tell him that a telephone book doesn't lay flat, on your head anyway.

The last thing about the barber shopI promise to get you along to the end of this soonwas the magazine selection. Where else but the barber shop could a boy get a glimpse of what we now call, adult content. I remember Terry Moore and her tight angora sweater; so nicely filled out all pert, perky and pointy. Just to recall how those were simpler times, I also remember myself handling a tabloid that claimed the front page headline was impregnated with LSD, and all you had to do was to go home and place the page in some ethyl alcohol and drink it to get the effect. Holy Cow! Those were the days. Psycedelic, for sure. (The newspaper was later denounced for giving bad instructions about the kind of alcohol to use. Something about it being poisonous. Nothing that I recall about the LSD. Hey, kids. Just say NO to babershop reading material!)

Continuing along... When I was a grade schooler we lived on the East Grand Boulevard near Trombley. The Candy Kitchen was a short four block hop from my house. After schoolwork on many an evening I would trek through the night — even in the dead of winter, snow up to here — to enjoy a delicious banana split at the mecca of wonderful sweetness.

The Candy Kitchen must have been there from the early 1900’s. A lot of towns have a shop called the Candy Kitchen. In St. Louis still chugging along there is the Crown Candy Kitchen that dates back to 1913.
 Images from Crown Candy Kitchen St. Louis
At a place with that name you can expect to find all kinds of goodies, but mainly a wide variety of homemade chocolates. There’s probably an owner operator, some old timer in the back who’s been at it for a lot of years. And, unless someone from the new generation steps up to take over, the place will probably close when the maestro retires.

My Candy Kitchen was a big brick corner building, with display windows on either side of the center door. The left window usually featured colorful candies of all kinds, but it was the window to the right that was the showstopper. Come Easter the display on the right side was the zenith of the chocolatier’s art. More on that in a moment.

Inside was a huge space with a high tin paneled ceiling and floors covered in those old fashioned glazed ceramic hexagonal white tiles with black borders and accents. On the right as you entered were the oak and beveled glass cases filled with an assortment of all types of handmade chocolate bonbons. On top of the cases and on the shelves in back were huge jars filled with a rainbow of colorful sugary treats. One jar that I visited often was the one with rock candy. One of my favorite fascinations, rock candy, translucent crystals of pure sugar formed around thin white strings. How’d they do it?

The back of the store was separated by a white lattice gazebo style partition. Potted palms, here and there. In the center back there were tables and along the walls booths painted white and in the same gazebo motif. I never ever saw anyone sitting there and I imagined there were ghosts from an earlier time when bobby soxers would come in after school and hang out nursing a soft drink and listening to bebop on the juke box. The kind with the real bubble lights and actual vinyl discs. Or, in an even earlier time, when a fella would take his gal for a date and linger over a shared milk shake with two straws and some innocent flirtation.

On the left side of the shop in front was a small showcase with packaged items such as gums and Life Savers and such and the cash register. But the crown jewel of the whole shebang was the soda fountain. About eight or so floor-mounted high stools set before a bar of solid swirled gray marble. Right behind was the usual wet bar set up replete with sweet condiments and syrupy flavorings. Naturally, there was a fancy dispenser tap with plain water and fizzy soda. Not the flavored soda like now, just (2 cents) plain seltzer. The syrups were added to order.

And, finally, up against the wall an elaborate carved wood built-in of dark mahogany done in the art nouveau style. A counter set up with glassware, a milk shake blender, and a dispenser of malt powder for those malted milk shakes. Straws and the ever present jar of foot long pretzel sticks. And behind it all, 3 large expanses of mirrors framed in finely carved wood. A palace. An altar?

Whenever I visited the Candy Kitchen there were two people in charge who I would always see there. Besides the pièce de résistance front Easter window, those two were amazing to behold. From my young point of view both the man and the woman were in their early 30’s. Both had jet black hair, well groomed, and always dressed in black and white. He with black slacks and a crisp white shirt, sleeves rolled up to do serous ice cream scooping. She with a close fitting long black skirt, a tight belt, and frilly white blouse buttoned right up to the neck. He had a barrel chest, a swarthy mustache, and the large hooked nose of a sinister swashbuckling pirate. Her luxurious dark hair was done up flamboyantly with fancy combs, ruby red lips, and lots of dark eye makeup. Also, quite a chest, herself. Woof! I imagined they were a married couple. It’s just that they didn’t look like the sort that you would find in a quaint candy store. They were "muy" sexy and very mysterious. Adding to the mystery, they never spoke to me (or to one another when I was there) except to ask me what I wanted. And they always prepared my ice cream sundae or banana split with meticulous care.

Particularly on those winter evenings that I remember going there, imagine this young kid sitting at the counter making love to his ice cream delight and these two theatrical figures waiting on me who looked like they were right out of central casting in some Mickey Spillane pulp steamer. I took due notice, but the dish in front of my face commanded my full attention.

So now to the Easter window at the Candy Kitchen.

After taking you by the long scenic route I am now confronted with the task of paying off the reader’s expectation with a description full of wonder and awe. My powers of painting with words have limits. It would be helpful if you also summoned up your own feeling of wonder and awe to supplement my attempts to recreate the excitement of a young lad looking in on a window with what to my small eyes looked like a half ton of chocolate. All done in the most carefully and artfully molded Easter shapes.

The display was set up in a stepped vertical arrangement so that the whole impression was a wall of chocolate set against a waterfall of decorative green plastic grass. Plenty of crisp white doilies under each group. There was always a chocolate bunny so big that I couldn’t imagine ever being able to deserve one that big. I don't know if it was solid chocolate through and through, but I prefer to imagine that it was. We’re talking two foot high rabbit here, easy! And a retinue of lesser bunnies in various sizes and poses. Several typical colorful woven Easter baskets each filled with assorted goodies, also in a variety of sizes. One for every pocketbook. Wrapped in colorful celophane with big satin ribbons.

But the main thing that I could never ever imagine getting my hands on was the centerpiece basket. Made entirely of chocolate; the square basket and the round handle, solid milk chocolate. Intricately formed to resemble a real basket. And then filled with more chocolates. Have some chocolate with your chocolate, why don't you?

I would many times just walk down to stand and gaze at the spellbinding vision of that window.

Now, alas, it is only a bittersweet memory. Ah, yes.

But now, look what the Easter Bunny brought for you!

Notice below the sugar egg. When I was a boy we had a sugar panorama egg as big as a football. It was kept in its own box and came out once a year at Eastertime. Inside that egg were colorful paper cut outs of boys and girls and bunnies and chicks on a green grassy field. Each year I looked forward to have a peek. It never got old. Ever new. That's Easter for you.