Saturday, June 19, 2010

Midge Day

New Haven's most infamous gangster, Salvatore "Midge Renault" Annunziato disappeared 31 years ago today. He got into a car with a fellow mobster and was never seen or heard from again.

Midge was the real deal, a made member of the Genovese crime family, a vicious thug with a heart of gold who kept his vow of silence to the end. He remains a legend in New Haven among those who knew him, which was just about everyone.

I was obsessed with Midge for years and tried unsuccessfully to sell a book about him and the history of the mob in New Haven. A year ago, Paul Bass at the New Haven Independent web newspaper was gracious enough to give me the opportunity to publish a five-part series about Midge and the Mafia in New Haven. You can read it here.

Yes, this a food blog so what about Midge and food? In accordance with the stereotype, he loved to eat. No surprise seeing that he stood 5'3", but weighed nearly 200 pounds. One cop who tailed him continuously in the late 1960s told me that he ate pizza every day. And he loved pickled egg plant, according to relatives.

He also almost certainly loved shrimp and clams, a Connecticut delicacy, as he once ran a place called "Bosmo's Shrimp and Clam Bar" in New Haven's Fair Haven section. Bosmo was an alias he used.

Bosmo's was in the ally between a restaurant owed by his brother and the next building. One person I spoke with worked there and recalled Midge and one of his brothers taking turns beating a man in the clam bar. Midge would smack him and then his brother would stand him up and smack him again and on and on. Midge was not a guy you crossed.

Rest in peace Midge, wherever you are.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Eat, Drink, Man, Woman

We rented this movie last night. It's been years since I've seen it, and I'd forgotten what a great movie it is. I would rank it, after "Big Night," as my favorite food movie of all time. You're famished after watching it.

The opening scenes of Old Chu preparing Sunday dinner are priceless. I especially love the part where he blows into the duck and hangs it in a slow cooker fashioned from a metal drum (although that may be later in the movie). The knife work is a thing of beauty. The part where he slices the vegetable with the precision of a computer-operated machine, lays it flat and then juliennes it is sublime. Anyone who has ever worked with a knife knows the skill and practice required. And then there's his pinching of the dumplings. Looks easy, but I've made Chinese dumplings and what those hands do so easily and effortlessly is extraordinarily difficult.

This movie, of course, is about much more than food. It uses cooking and eating to say important things about love, life, desire, marriage and family. As Old Chu observes in a drunken conversation with his old friend, "Eat, drink, man,woman, what else is there in life?" or words to that affect.

A delight from beginning to end. Now I'm hungry.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Making Coffee Cake Coffee Cake

That sticky, sweet brown crumble on top and inside is what makes coffee cake coffee cake.

So what exactly is it? I'd never even thought about that until last weekend when my daughter decided she wanted to try coffee cake muffins for breakfast. We made a batch using a Mark Bittman recipe (see picture above for the result). I'm going to respect the copyright, but based on flavor, the crumble contents are clearly standard: some combination of brown sugar, cinnamon and melted butter. You stir some into the batter and sprinkle the rest on top. Wow is it good.

My daughter, who generally does not like anything bready, decided she wasn't much on the muffins, but I thought they were delicious. I'm enjoying one each day this week for lunch.

A wonderful flavor revealed. As with so many great tastes, it's surprising simple and easy to make.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Hooray for the Blueberr-ay!

I love blueberries. They are one of my favorite foods. So of course I was excited when they were 2 pints for $4 this past weekend. A low price for produce almost always means tasty. Makes sense. It's simple economics: big, quality supply translates into low price.

The berries are indeed excellent, sweet, subtle and succulent. I love a bowl with breakfast.

But what to do with two pints? It's too many to eat plain, so I made this blueberry cake from Gourmet. I love this recipe. The cake comes out moist, airy and buttery, laced with ribbons of sweet berries. The recipe is somewhat counter-intuitive. The cake is really going to push through that layer of blueberry syrup? But it works brilliantly if you follow all the steps closely. One recommendation: Use good butter, either organic or locally produced. You will taste the difference.

I made the cake pictured above Saturday, and it was gone by last night. A great, great desert.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Earthen Oven Part Deux

I've been watching the Green Channel (also known as the Ed Begley Jr. Channel) every now and then, specifically Morgan Spurlock's "30 Days" in which he chronicles people's attempts to do everything from lose weight to live like a Muslim for -- you guessed it -- 30 days. The show is highly entertaining and a rare look into how Americans really live, all but nonexistent on more mainstream television.

One episode followed an out-of-shape dad in his early 30s who embarks on an "age reversal" regimen. The program called for exercise and better eating. Fine. But then he added steroids and human growth hormone administered by a ghoulish middle-aged doctor who looked like he smeared half a can of black shoe polish into his hair and mustache every morning. I won't spoil it, but things awry. What a surprise.

The other night, I watched another episode which to my surprise took place at The Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage, site of the mud bread oven I wrote about in my previous post. A couple from the Bronx, Vito, a tattooed Italian bouncer and Johari, his black wife-girlfriend, who is a party planner (see picture above), live on the commune for 30 days.

Food is, of course, a major issue. Poor Vito, who has arms the size of tree trunks, has to live without meat on the vegetarian/vegan commune. He's reduced to shooting rabbits with a pellet gun. Later, he visits a farm that sells grass-fed beef which he tries to roast over a campfire. His fire is clearly not hot enough, and the result looks unappetizingly raw.

If this show were on Fox, there would be screaming matches and non-stop, over-the-top mutual contempt. Red vs. Blue, Real Common Sense Americans against Lilly-Livered Commie Pinko Nazis. But the show isn't like that all. Sure the couple get annoyed, but in the end, they have a positive experience and, in spite of their initial doubts, come away with some real lessons: use less energy, eat more locally produced food, take more public transportation.

The commune people, meanwhile, are far more tolerant and much less militant than their stereotype. They're not happy Vito's eating meat, but hey if that's what he wants to do, it's his thing.

TV that reflects reality, makes us think and shows people compromising and learning from each other instead of reinforcing prejudices and set narratives. What a concept.