SILENCE HAS A NAME - Poetry Chapbook and CD, with Music by Mark Hanley

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Oil and Illy

April 24, 2010

Hardly a day goes by that I don't shop (and spend a small fortune) at Whole Foods in Edgewater. It's really not just the lovely walkway alongside the often breathtaking view of the GWB and NYC across the Hudson just outside the store that drives me to this location. It really is often the food inside -- and the wonderful wide aisles and displays -- that make me feel like a kid in a toy store. The diverse food bar, fresh cheeses and organic produce are enough to seduce any vegetarian, and on Saturdays, shopping is made that much more attractive by the sampling tables with all their delectable options.

We stopped by today and had the lovely surprise of sampling Leggio's Olive Oil and talking to owner/inventor Joe Leggio about his concoctions. There are three. Joe himself, who is tall and good-looking, Italian as they come, with the puffy combed back dark blond hair and blue eyes that hail to northern Italy, and large gesturing hands, says he ran a restaurant for 20 years before discovering his calling with olive oil. "My waiters kept coming into the kitchen, replacing butter with olive oil, until finally I decided I had to make some of my own.

"I put in all the spices and condiments I like -- basil, garlic, oregano, pepper, you know? -- until it tasted delicious." Chef Leggio designed and printed out his own label, placed his blend of spices and olive oil in small wine bottles, sent in cases by a friend, asked his wife to put a price tag of $14 on each bottle and set them at the front of his restaurant, and presto. It was virtually that easy.

Joe's wife thought he was a little crazy pricing olive oil so high, but in fact, the olive oil sold so fast, Joe couldn't keep up. He had to hire help. Then, in December of that year, he sold close to 6,000 bottles. "I'll never forget it," he said. Then Whole Foods came to visit, and now he has several outlets calling in orders. In about a year, Leggio's life has changed, thanks to olive oil.

"You can use the olive oil with seafood, chicken, pasta, just about anything," he said. I bought the Sundried Tomato and Basil Leggio's, and to tell you the truth, I'm already making a mental list of all the recipes I plan to use it on, starting with broccoli rabe!

Whole Foods is like a little village with something for everybody, and as we traipsed on through the store, we passed our favorite counters, sampling olives and cheeses. We bought an extraordinary gouda, then happened upon the elegant brand Illy's, which recently began marketing espresso -- in a can! I like the red script of the logo on the small, slender silver can, so I was eager to sample the new drink.

Gone the mess and trouble of making early morning espresso to pour into my thermos, filled with fresh squeezed orange juice and green tea to take to work. I now have Illy's in a can. Sweetened slightly with an organic substance (or so we were informed), it's just right, and not at all bitter, like the variety I usually pick up elsewhere. If it's not my fresh brewed espresso, it usually just won't cut it. But Illy's will do.

I'm an espresso lover, and enjoy a drink of the stuff practically every day. I was sold instantly by the fine quality of the drink I sampled. Today Illy's was on sale, two for $3, but be prepared to spend as much as you would at Starbuck's for this one. The only difference is, Illy's is well worth it.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hemingway in Cafes and "On the Rocks"

April 17, 2010

"The story was writing itself and I was having a hard time keeping up with it. I ordered another rum St. James and I watched the girl whenever I looked up, or when I sharpened the pencil with the pencil sharpener with the shavings curling into the saucer under my drink." Ernest Hemingway, A Moveable Feast

I have to say that writing in cafes, sitting at a table alone with an espresso, a pad and a pen, imagining I have a world of time in which to conjure words and put them down, counts among the top pleasures in my life.

In many ways I have Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald to thank for that, as they launched my fascination with writing and literature about drinking and excess when I was in my 20s, when the Minimalists of the day weren't spending much time describing that, or much of anything. I especially have Hemingway to thank, Hemingway, who wrote better than anyone in his time about the pleasures of eating, imbibing and hanging out in bars and cafes.

Before Bourdain, there was Hemingway, and the two have much in common, mainly attitude and bravado -- which made their reputations in life and on the page. It's a tradition Norman Mailer was a part of too, but he just didn't have the charm -- for women anyway. If you want to charm a woman, you have to have at least a tinge of regret before you murder a beast or set out to betray your best friend. Mailer didn't care either way.

But let's get back to Hemingway and what makes him such a great travel writer. He had a penchant for describing his excursions into nature, making love to the elements before making a kill; and he wrote with as much gusto about eating as he did killing, describing drinking and dining in cafes in the 1920s better than anyone.

What makes The Sun Also Rises such a delectable read is it's short and busy, with Hemingway doing all he can to keep his characters drunk and charming. Between debauches, the narrator hangs in cafes, smoking and drinking coffee. "In the morning I walked down the Boulevard to the Rue Soufflot for coffee and brioche. It was a fine morning. The horse-chestnut trees in the Luxembourg gardens were in bloom. There was the pleasant early-morning feeling of a hot day. I read the papers with the coffee and then smoked a cigarette."

But nights, you can barely make out the feisty reparte of characters over the boom of their raucous partying, which sometimes rings automatic: "We drank three bottles of the champagne and the count left the basket in my kitchen. We dined at a restaurant in the Bois. It was a good dinner. Food had an excellent place in the count's values. So did wine. The count was in fine form during the meal. So was Brett. It was a good party."

A Moveable Feast, Hemingway's collection of essays about living in Paris in the 20s as a young man, has its share of scenes in cafes, even if the memoir, edited by his fourth wife Mary and published in 1964, after his death, is laced with acerbic tales about his so-called friends like the Fitzgeralds.

After completing the draft of a story in a cafe, Hemingway writes about the pleasure of treating himself to a reward: "As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea, and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans."

Ah, what would Hemingway have been without his daily dose of a little alcohol, a rare morsel and a little death? It's hard to say. The man shot himself at 60 with his favorite rifle. He helped to impale the myth of the macho as a character worthy of praise in our culture. The legacy he left was tragic and bitter for those who knew him, and equally disenchanting for those he aspired to move.