A while back my daughter Kristina gave me a frying pan. It wasn’t just any frying pan, this one was hand crafted by a friend of hers, Marsha Trattner. Masha is a metal worker of the first order. She’s a welder and blacksmith making both functional and artistic items. Her site – She-Weld
Bridget and I recently went to one of Marsha’s forging classes. We started small, making some simple hooks to get a feel for the forge and tools.
Then we started on the main project – making a knife out of a rail road spike. Wei was our instructor and a natural blacksmith. He thoroughly explained every step and checked-in on us often to see how we were doing.
The basic idea is to heat the metal to make it malleable and then hammer it to draw it out and shape it. Sounds simple but it takes a hell of a lot of hammering, enough to leave me with a sore arm the next day.
After the forging the next step is fine tuning. That’s the grinding. You start with the blackened piece of metal that was once a railroad spike and finish with a shinny and sharp knife.
Sumo wrestlers want a weight advantage. They average over 400 pounds and work to keep that bulk. They do it by eating Chanko Nabe almost every day. It’s a sort of stew or hot-pot with lots of protein, a delicious broth and varying ingredients. In itself it’s not particularly fattening but in the quantities that it’s eaten, plus lots of beer and a nap after each meal, it does the job.
The New York Times Food section just did an interesting illustrated article called – Squab: a Primer.
According to Wikipedia – squab is a young domestic pigeon, typically under four weeks old. . . It formerly applied to all dove and pigeon species. . . More recently, squab meat comes almost entirely from domesticated pigeons.
There’s more to pigeons than the ones raised for food and the others you see on city streets. Some people race them as a hobby. There’s also the sport of triganieri that originated in Modena and is still practiced in New York today. And others just like the look of the fancy pigeon breeds.
Some pigeon facts –
A pigeon can fly as high as 6000 feet, at an average speed of 75 mph and cover 600 to 700 miles in day. They’ve passed the ‘mirror test,’ – the ability to recognize themselves in a mirror. They are one of only 6 species and the only non-mammal able to do that. These facts apply to the ones you eat as well as the ones in the street.
This is definitely worth a look if you interested in Chinese cooking. Even if you’re not, the recipe illustrations are something special.
The Illustrated Wok, a new print collection of hand-illustrated Chinese recipes from 40 chefs around the world. The book pairs each chef with an artist who produces striking and frequently surreal interpretations of the recipe.
My favorite – the classic lox and cream cheese on a bagel.
Murray’s Sturgeon Shop
I consider myself lucky to live just around the corner from Murray’s. I don’t even have to cross a street to get there. Murray’s Sturgeon Shop has been located at 2429 Broadway since 1946 and although the shop is small and unassuming, it’s famous throughout the City. They deal in specialty foods from egg salad & spinach sandwiches to Bulgerian Osetra caviar ($189.00 per ounce).
Pollice Verso (With a Turned Thumb) by Jean Leon Gerome, 1872
I guess everyone has heard of the Paleo Diet – that’s what people ate 10,000 years ago. It’s basically meat, nuts, fruit and vegetables. There’s something a little more current, well, from about 2,000 years ago, the Gladiator Diet. It’s what Roman gladiators ate to stay in fighting condition. And surprisingly, it was almost a completely vegetarian diet.
Oat and Seed Cakes
No meat and potatoes for these guys. They ate mostly barley, beans and some pasta too, often flavored with fish sauce, trying to put on enough weight to cushion those sword and spear wounds in the arena. That wasn’t enough to strengthen their bones so they drank a sort of “sports drink,” a mix of wood and bone ash to build up calcium. They also drank goats milk and water but no wine. This combination of food and drink made them fit and tough.
String Beans a la Gladiator (based on what we know they ate and what was commonly available in Rome back then)
Boil the string beans for 5 minutes. In another pot sauté the onion in oil until soft, translucent and just beginning to brown. Add the drained, cooked string beans to the onions, add the colatura di alici and about 1/2 cup of the water you boiled the string beans in. Taste for seasoning. Colatura di Alici can be very salty and you may not need any more salt. Simmer for a few minutes and serve.
String Beans a la Gladiator
Some more information on the Gladiator Diet here –
I’ve heard it’s North African, or Middle-Eastern and it’s definitely very popular in Israel. Whatever it is, it’s a hearty breakfast, lunch or dinner. The first time I had shakshuska was in an Israeli run diner in Rockaway. I asked the waitress what it was and the way she described it sold me. It was served in a small cast iron pan right from the stove. You can’t get just anywhere so I started making it myself. This is similar to Eggs in Purgatory.
Start by frying the onion, red pepper, and chili in olive oil. Cook until edges start to turn brown. Pay attention and don’t let it burn.
Add garlic and cook for about a minute. Mix in the paprika and cumin and add the tomatoes. Simmer for about 10 minutes, check for seasoning and add the parsley.
The sauce should be thick enough to make five indentations in it using a spoon. Break an egg into each one. Cover and reduce the heat and cook it until egg are done.
If you cook, you know how important sharp knives are. They just seem to glide through whatever you’re cutting and make everything easier. You can sharpen them yourself using different types of sharpening stones or you can have them done professionally. I’m lucky enough to be within walking distance of Del Re’s Grinding – at least every Saturday from 2 to 6 pm. That’s when he parks his van in front of Zabar’s, an Upper West Side specialty food store on Broadway near 80th Street. There’s usually a line and no matter how long the line is, Mr. Del Re doesn’t rush. He’s a true craftsman and he does a thorough job.
The images on his truck show all of the things he can sharpen although I don’t think many people in Manhattan have lawn mowers and hedge shears.
He parks along side of restaurants and rings the bell above his windshield to let them know he’s there.
. . . a true craftsman and he does a thorough job . . .