Thinking back of the years of indulging myself beyond the usual share, I remember my favorite experiences in hospitality, personal or just admired.
A setting that was the origin of much of my inspiration for and teaching about food, was the apartment of my aunt and Russian uncle in Washington, D.C. It was there that I drank hundred-year-old Madeira, there that I discovered flavored vodkas frozen to smoothness, there that I learned to eat blini—the fire-and-ice vodka first, then the rich, buttery, caviar-laden blini. That was before the main course. Guinea fowl braised in 1907 Malmsey served on a bed of kasha and wild rice, the sauce made from the braising juices. With it we drank an 1891 Sercial.
I was fifteen.
Despite all these riches and indulgences, it is the memory of the simple food that most vividly conjures up every detail of the lost moments—the flavors, attitudes, and quietly deeper satisfactions. I remember the lobster served with my aunt’s coleslaw, potato chips, and beer. Perhaps the best part was, as an adoring adolescent, to partake in the conversations, endless ones about the various potato chips on the table, one of which had to be decided upon as the winner, the others banished. About beer being the best drink with boiled lobster and butter and which ones.
With the hot lobster dripping butter into which I mashed the tomalley, we ate the tomato and cabbage coleslaw.
My Aunt’s Coleslaw
Photo Sam Hanna
The whole key to the success of this dish, I was firmly but very gently told, is to cut the cabbage and tomatoes in large pieces and to soak the cabbage in ice water in the refrigerator for four hours. Meanwhile you peel and seed ripe tomatoes, and when the slaw is mixed and dressed it has to sit in the refrigerator for a couple of hours to achieve perfect flavor and texture.
Serves 4 to 6
1 head white cabbage
4 large ripe tomatoes
1/2 cup mayonnaise (Helmann’s will do)
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger
1 teaspoon powdered ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
salt and freshly ground pepper
Discard any of the outer leaves of the cabbage that are wilted or discolored. Cut the cabbage in half from top to bottom and cut out the core. Put each half, cut side down, on the cutting board and cut into 1/2-inch slices. Put the cabbage in a large bowl, cover with cold water and ice cubs, and refrigerate for 4 hours.
Peel the tomatoes, cut in half around the circumference, squeeze out the seeds, and cut each tomato in half into 6 pieces. Mix the mayonnaise, sour cream, fresh and powdered ginger, and mustard in a bowl.
Drain the cabbage very well and mix thoroughly with the sauce. Season with salt and pepper, add the tomatoes, and toss lightly. Refrigerate covered for 2 hours, stirring twice. Serve very cold.