ALL THESE years popsicles and sand-coated french fries were good enough. But no longer.
Author Anne Tyler has ruined it for us, and Robert Ludlum's hands are not clean either.
This summer, as we slowly roast on a nubby beach towel with our eyes riveted on "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant," pizza and bologna sandwiches won't do. Don't even try to tempt us with a bucket of chicken from the boardwalk. We are craving gizzard soup.
Yeah, gizzard soup. The kind that Ezra Tull was driven to take to Mrs. Scarlatti in the hospital even though he knew she couldn't eat it:
He knew that after he left, someone would discard his soup. But this was his special gizzard soup that she had always loved. There were twenty cloves of garlic in it. Mrs. Scarlatti used to claim it settled her stomach, soothed her nerves -- changed her whole perception of the day, she said.
When we read that Ezra has started serving his gizzard soup in the Homesick Restaurant, roadside crab houses suddenly lack the nourishment we crave. We want a waitress like Ezra's to tell us, "Try our gizzard soup. It's really hot and garlicky and it's made with love."
Gizzard soup has not been sighted in Ocean City.
Nor has eggplant soup, even though the Homesick Restaurant has us hungering after Eggplant Soup Ursula, not really because it sounds good -- which it doesn't -- but because we can't forget the passage about a post-funeral dinner where the silent prayer is interrupted by whispering mourners.
"Tell us the secret ingredient," Jenny teased him.
"Who says there's a secret ingredient?"
"Isn't there always a secret ingredient? Some special, surprising trick that you'd only share with blood kin?"
"Well," said Ezra. "It's bananas."
"Without bananas, this soup is nothing."
After that, how could we be expected to get through vacation without tasting an eggplant soup that is nothing without bananas?
The best-seller lists this summer are full of quiches that real men don't eat, passionate chocolate, diets that are only whispered and never said. But those are merely the obvious tempters. Worse are those that catch us unaware right in the middle of the thriller, when about 400 pages into "The Parsifal Mosaic" we, along with Jenna, must have kolace.
"Sweet rolls? . . . You're crazy. You're positively out of your mind. We've spent twenty-four hours in a goddamned hell and you're talking about hot cross buns!"
"We must live, Mikhail," said Jenna, her voice suddenly soft beside him, the movement of her hands slowing to a halt. "I did speak with our armed-to-the-teeth cook, and I'm sure I flirted. In the morning he'll make sure we have apricots and dry yeast; nutmeg he has -- and ground mace. He'll order it all tonight. In the morning, kolace."
Food again works its magic. The next morning, "The world was going to hell in a galactic basket and Jenna Karas was baking kolace."
After which, even if we have never before heard of kolace and don't actually know what they are, we must eat some before the sun sets on our browned and basted bodies . . . Just as we even crave airline food while reading that Sam Devereaux in Ludlum's "The Road to Gandolfo" pants over the smells of Air France's veal and tournedos after he has gone 36 hours without eating.
Tennis players and bicycle riders cannot be expected to understand; their appetites are for the possible: the calzone outlined in neon on the storefront next to the courts, a chocolate-chip-cookie-ice-cream sandwich that grabs their attention as they pedal by a vending cart. We readers starve over fantasies.
The sun melts the sidewalk, but we must have Spanish beef stew because it is the lunch special Travis McGee orders after he interrogates the waitress in John D. MacDonald's "Cinnamon Skin." Even though it is a snowy-weather dish, Spanish beef stew becomes the path to knowledge that we must immediately travel.
So what if Lydia in Gail Godwin's "A Mother and Two Daughters" can make 16 individual crab meat souffle's out of only nine egg whites, and we can only stretch it to a dozen. Once we have read of her whipping and beating and folding to demonstrate her souffle' on television, we wish we'd had our Betamax programmed to get that recipe, because crab meat souffle's suddenly sound much better than the tuna salad we had planned for dinner.
We are even driven to polish off the entire volume of Virginia Rich's "The Cooking School Murders" -- not because of our fascination with Mrs. Potter's cooking school or detection techniques, but because we have fallen in love with the idea of Grandmother Andrews' Green Tomato Pie, and dare not miss a single mention of it. We are ready to strip our vines and arrest the maturity of every tomato they produce, wondering whether there is brown sugar in the house even before we start the daily search for the suntan oil cap.
Lifeguards may consider it weird, our sipping steamy broths under the noonday blaze; and our dinner guests who read nothing newer than Proust may not understand when, with Ezra Tull on our minds, we drink hot milk with honey and cinnamon instead of a gin and tonic.
But the writers themselves understand. When Anne Tyler was reviewing Robb Forman Dew's "Dale Loves Sophie to Death," she reached for two file cards to jot down the recipes for shish kebab and tomates a la cre me. And she made them for dinner.
Dinah had cubed the sirloin for the shish kebab, and with rubber gloves over her hands she rubbed each separate piece with a cut clove of garlic and then with powdered ginger, being sure that the deep golden powder adhered to every surface. She stirred the cubes into a marinade of sour cream, rosemary, and bay, and left the bowl in a shady place on the counter.
When the butter began to bubble slightly, Dinah placed the tomatoes in the pan, cut side up, pushing them gently around until all ten halves would fit. She stood over them as they saute'ed, looking for just the right translucency to set in at the cut edges before she turned them . . . Dinah added heavy cream to the bubbling tomatoes and shook the pan until the cream and the butter and the tomato juices mixed into a pale golden sauce and thickened.
"I think of that book practically as a cookbook," says Dew, who, like Tyler, depicted a chilly mother by showing her as a person who did not like to handle food. When she heard of Tyler's interest in Dale and Sophie's Shish Kebabs, Dew was afraid that the recipe might not work; indeed she had taken poetic license in marinating the lamb only for an afternoon in the novel, while in real life it marinates for two or three days. So Dew sent Tyler the recipe. And Tyler passed to us the recipe for gizzard soup, which really has only three cloves of garlic rather than the 20 mentioned in Ezra's version. And she persuaded novelist Ursula Perrin to allow full disclosure -- with bananas -- of the recipe for her eggplant soup.
These are authors who cook and find food intriguing. Dew shudders when she recalls hearing Joyce Carol Oates say on television that she only eats as a social necessity. "My God, I only don't eat as a social necessity," says Dew, who grew up on Creole cooking and wouldn't dream of a meal without pasta and butter. She still mutters over meeting John Updike only to find that what he most wanted to discuss was the Scarsdale Diet. "Do you imagine that John Updike worries about his weight?" she muses. And Gail Godwin loves food, says Dew approvingly. Godwin, like many authors, dieted for her appearance on the Today Show. How many pounds have been shed prior to appearances on the early-morning broadcast? "Somebody ought to tally that up," suggests Dew, adding that the show's producers haven't asked her to make an appearance yet, but if it means going on a diet, she'll have to miss it. Her next novel gets into chili making right in the first chapter. ANNE TYLER'S GIZZARD SOUP (BECHINALT) (From "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant")
Does Tyler always have something specific in mind when she is writing about food? "Oh no. Never. I just thought I had to have something real in there because it was all about food." So she included this gizzard soup from "The Impoverished Students' Book of Cookery, Drinkery, and Housekeepery," by J. F. Rosenberg, a favorite recipe that Tyler makes by the gallon at the start of winter and freezes for her lunches. Nobody else in the family eats this very garlicky soup. "It's the kind of thing that makes your nose run as you are eating it," says Tyler, adding, "I just live on it. It makes you feel nourished and protected." When we tasted it, it also made us feel ravenous for more. (2 servings) 1 pound chicken gizzards 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon pepper Water to cover (about 3 cups) 3 tablespoons melted butter 3 cloves garlic, pressed 2 tablespoons flour
Simmer gizzards with salt and pepper in water to cover, in a covered pot, about 1 hour. Remove gizzards from broth and chop into relatively small pieces -- by hand, not in a food processor. Mix butter, garlic and flour into a paste. Bring the gizzard broth to a boil, mix a little of it into the garlic paste, then stir the paste into the boiling broth. Return gizzards to broth and simmer 15 minutes. Serve in bowls with challah or some other bread for dipping. EGGPLANT SOUP URSULA (From "Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant") (10 to 12 servings)
When Anne Tyler and her Iranian husband once visited novelist Ursula Perrin, she made her special eggplant soup, assuming that all Iranians love eggplant. Tyler not only asked for the recipe -- which Perrin was inclined to keep a secret -- but she also immortalized it in her next novel, though it became a hot soup in the process. Perrin's soup was adapted (by leaving out the cream and egg yolk enrichment) from "The Concord Cookbook." Tyler returned the cream to the recipe. "Don't forget the bananas," warned Perrin, who had tried -- unsuccessfully -- leaving them out. And that thought, too, appeared in print. But Tyler honored Perrin's secret and refused to divulge the recipe. "Oh, I hate to give away my recipes," sighed Perrin when confronted with a request to go public. But she did, right down to the bananas. 2 medium eggplants, unpeeled (Perrin uses 4 Japanese eggplants, which she says are the same kind Iranians use) Salt 5 tablespoons butter 1/2 cup chopped onion 1 teaspoon mashed garlic 2 mcintosh apples, chopped, with peel left on 1 banana, sliced (with peel removed, reminds Perrin) 1 tablespoon curry powder 1/2 teaspoon rosemary Bouquet garni (for example, 1/2 teaspoon each savory, thyme, basil and oregano tied in cheesecloth with 2 bay leaves) 1/2 teaspoon fresh chervil (substitute dried) 6 plum tomatoes 5 cups homemade chicken or beef stock 1 cup whipping cream
Cut eggplant into cubes. Put in bowl, salt heavily, cover and let stand 15 to 20 minutes. Saute' onion and garlic in 3 tablespoons butter until golden. Add apples and banana and saute' 5 minutes more, then set aside. With paper towels, squeeze dry the eggplant cubes. Saute' them in remaining butter until golden brown. Add seasonings, tomatoes, apple-banana mixture and stock. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Discard bouquet garni. Pure'e mixture in blender or food processor until smooth. Stir in cream. Refrigerate. Serve cold. DALE & SOPHIE'S SHISH KEBAB (From "Dale Loves Sophie to Death")
"It's one of the best things in the world," Robb Forman Dew says of this shish kebab she invented by combining two recipes. 1 cup sour cream 1 3/4 teaspoons rosemary 3/4 teaspoon mashed garlic 1/2 onion, chopped 2 teaspoons ginger Juice of 1 lemon 1/4 teaspoon pepper 1/4 teaspoon thyme 4 bay leaves (if very strong, use only 1) 1 pound sirloin tip, cut into 1-inch cubes 1 clove garlic 1 teaspoon onion powder (or remaining half onion, finely minced) Salt and additional pepper to taste
In blender container combine sour cream, rosemary, 3/4 teaspoon garlic, 1/2 onion, 1 teaspoon ginger, lemon, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, thyme and bay leaves. Blend until smooth. Cut meat into 1-inch cubes, not larger. Rub the meat well with a cut clove of garlic or mash the clove of garlic and put in a large bowl with the meat, the onion powder or minced onion, 1 teaspoon ginger and salt and pepper to taste. Rub the meat well with the spices, then pour sour cream mixture over the meat and stir until the meat is thoroughly coated. Cover and refrigerate 2 to 3 days, being sure that the top is well-covered with sour cream. Thread meat closely on skewers and grill slowly over a charcoal fire. Meat should be far enough from the coals that cooking 5 minutes on each side will turn the surface crusty but leave the center rare. TOMATES A LA CREME (From "Dale Loves Sophie to Death")
This dish is so easy and so good that when a guest asked for the recipe and Dew gave it, the guest thought she was holding out on some of the ingredients, that the recipe couldn't be so simple. But it was. "It makes a sort of golden buttery sauce and . . . it's heaven. I could forget the tomatoes and just have the sauce," says Dew, who found the recipe in an old "Gourmet" magazine, which she credits in her novel. She did take some literary license, though, in starting the tomatoes cooking cut side up in her book. In this recipe we have returned to the original. 1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) butter 5 small, ripe tomatoes, halved crosswise Salt and pepper to taste 1/2 cup heavy cream or more, not ultra-pasteurized*
Melt butter in a skillet large enough to hold all the tomato halves in one layer. Add tomatoes, cut side down, and puncture their rounded sides in several places with a sharp knife or the tines of a fork. Cook for 5 minutes. Turn cut side up and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook another 5 minutes or more until the ends turn translucent. Again turn the tomatoes, and then one final time so that the cut sides are up. Pour cream into the pan, swirling the pan so that the cream combines with the butter and the juices of the tomatoes to form a sauce. Add more cream if you wish. When cream bubbles, remove pan from heat and serve.
Note: If ultra-pasteurized cream is used, the sauce may curdle. It will taste good, but will not look appetizing. KOLACE (Inspired by "The Parsifal Mosaic")
These faintly sweet yeast rolls are Czech, although the addition of mace and nutmeg was inspired by Robert Ludlum's description rather than from any Czech recipe we could find. They are likely to be filled with apples, plums, peaches, nuts, pot cheese, poppy seeds or jam, although in "The Parsifal Mosaic" apricots are used. (Makes about 4 dozen) 1 package active dry yeast or 1 cake compressed yeast 2 tablespoons lukewarm water 2/3 cup butter 3 egg yolks 1/4 cup sugar 1 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind 4 cups sifted flour 1 teaspoon mace 1 teaspoon nutmeg 1 cup (approximately) light cream or milk 10 ounces apricot jam Confectioners' sugar
Sprinkle or crumble yeast into a small dish. Add water, very warm for dry yeast and lukewarm for compressed yeast. After a minute or two, stir to dissolve. Cream butter in a large bowl. Add egg yolks, sugar, salt and lemon rind, beating after each addition. Stir in dissolved yeast; mix again. Add 2 cups of flour sifted with mace and nutmeg. Then alternately add remaining flour and cream; mix well to make a soft dough. Form into a ball and put in a greased bowl. Turn to coat the surface of the dough with oil. Put in a warm place, covered with a towel, to rise until doubled in bulk. Turn out on a floured board; roll to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Cut into 2-inch rounds with a cookie cutter or glass. Arrange on ungreased cookie sheets; let rise, covered, in a warm place until doubled in bulk. Make a depression in the center of each round; fill with jam. Bake at 375 degrees for about 12 minutes, or until pale golden. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. SPANISH BEEF STEW (Inspired by "Cinnamon Skin") (Serves 8 to 10) 1 pound stewing beef, cubed 5 ounces ham, diced 5 ounces fresh pork, cubed 2 15-ounce cans chickpeas, drained 1 teaspoon salt 1 turnip, diced 3 leeks, diced 2 carrots, diced 1/2 pound potatoes, peeled and diced 5 ounces chorizo (spanish sausage), sliced 2 pounds cabbage, diced 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 clove garlic, chopped
In a heavy saucepan cover beef, ham and fresh pork with 1 1/2 cups water and bring to a boil. Add chickpeas and salt, bring again to a boil and skim off any scum that rises to the surface. Add turnip, leeks and carrots and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, uncovered. Add potatoes and chorizo, plus more water if necessary, and simmer 1/2 hour longer.
In a separate saucepan, boil cabbage in 1 cup lightly salted water for 15 minutes, then drain it. In a third saucepan, heat olive oil and fry garlic for 1 minute. Add cabbage and stir it well, cover and cook just until heated through. Add to stew, heat to simmering and serve. AIR FRANCE VEAL CORDON BLEU (In honor of "The Road to Gandolfo") (Stuffed Veal Chops) (4 servings) hen we asked Air France for a veal recipe, the public relations man volunteered to send us the company's recipe book. Recipe book? How many people want a recipe book for duplicating airline dinners, we wondered? "Well, we have a chef with a big ego," laughed the Air France man. 4 rib veal chops, cut 1-inch thick (preferably white, milk-fed veal) 8 thin slices swiss or gruye ere cheese 8 slices prosciutto Salt to taste 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper Flour 2 eggs 4 tablespoons vegetable oil Dry bread crumbs 2 tablespoons butter Small white onions Split chops through the center right to the bone, so they open like a book. Pound each side slightly to flatten. Put 1 slice cheese, then 1 slice ham on each side as close to the bone as possible. Close chops and pound edges to seal. Season with salt and pepper, then dip lightly in flour. Beat eggs with half the oil. Dip chops in this mixture, then in the bread crumbs, coating heavily. Chill for 30 minutes. Heat the butter and remaining oil in a skillet large enough to hold the chops in a single layer (or use 2 skillets). Brown lightly on both sides, then put in oven and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
Serve with small white onions saute'ed in butter and veal juices. GRANDMOTHER ANDREWS' GREEN TOMATO PIE (From "The Cooking School Murders) (Makes 1 9-inch pie) 1 recipe pie pastry to fit 9-inch pan with enough left over for lattice work 6 to 8 small green tomatoes 1 lemon, cut in quarters 1 cup brown sugar 1/4 cup white sugar 4 tablespoons flour 1 teaspoon salt Sliced tomatoes and lemons thinly. Crumble brown and white sugars, flour and salt together. Layer tomatoes and lemons with crumbled mixture in pie shell. Top with lattice crust. Bake at 425 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes. Slice thinly to serve. CRAB MEAT SOUFFLE (Borrowed from Julia Child and inspired by "A Mother and Two Daughters") (Makes 12 1-cup souffles) 5 tablespoons butter, plus extra for buttering molds 2 tablespoons grated swiss or parmesan cheese 4 tablespoons minced shallots or scallions 9 tablespoons flour 2 cups boiling liquid (juice from canned crab meat, if any, and milk) 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 2 tablespoons tomato paste (for color) 1 teaspoon oregano or marjoram 8 egg yolks 1 1/2 cup flaked crab meat 1 cup grated swiss cheese 9 egg whites Pinch of salt
Butter 12 1-cup souffle' molds and sprinkle with the 2 tablespoons cheese. Cook the shallots or scallions in 5 tablespoons butter for a moment in a saucepan. Add the flour and cook 2 minutes, stirring, without letting it brown. Off heat, beat in the boiling liquid, then the seasonings, tomato paste and herbs. Bring to boil, stirring, for 1 minute. Remove saucepan from heat and let cool a moment. Off heat, beat in the egg yolks one by one. Then beat in the crab meat and all but a tablespoon of swiss cheese. Beat the egg whites and salt until stiff. Stir 1/4 of whites into the souffle' mixture. Fold in the rest. Turn into prepared molds and sprinkle with the remaining cheese. Set in middle level of a preheated 400-degree oven. Turn heat down to 375 degres and bake for about 30 minutes.
Variations: With the same method and proportions, you can make a souffle' using 1 1/2 cups of any of the following: flaked canned tuna or any cooked fish; finely diced or ground cooked lobster or shrimp; ground cooked chicken or turkey; pure'ed cooked sweetbreads or brains. If you wish to use raw fish or chicken, grind it, add it to the sauce base with the boiling milk, and boil for 2 minutes. Then beat in the egg yolks and proceed with the recipe.