Sunday, June 21, 2015

Pa had promised Laura and Mary the bladder and the pig's tail

my town
Mark and I went to Tosca the other night, a venerable San Francisco bar with red leather booths and opera on the jukebox that is now an April Bloomfield restaurant. (April Bloomfield = revered chef of the Spotted Pig in New York City and author of the cookbooks A Girl and her Pig and A Girl and her Greens.) We'd been to the old Tosca on a few memorable occasions, one so memorable I have only hazy memories of it. Although Tosca is definitely more glamorous now, we were pleased at how little it had physically changed. I sat down at the bar and asked the bartender what he would do if someone came in and ordered a pink squirrel. He said he would have no idea what to do, he had never heard of the pink squirrel. I had to put on my glasses to read the drinks menu and ordered a negroni. Mark ordered a pink gin. We were both wrecks the next day. The new normal.

As to the food, we started with the coppa panini, a small, hot pressed sandwich that came wrapped in paper. It was salty, gooey, wonderfully greasy and delicious. If you ever go to Tosca, order that for sure.

We also ordered the crispy pig tails. I had to, because when I was six I read Little House in the Big Woods over and over again. The book contains this unforgettable passage:

Ma opened the front of the cookstove and raked hot coals out into the iron hearth. Then Laura and Mary took turns holding the pig's tail over the coals.

It sizzled and fried, and drops of fat dripped off it and blazed on the coals. Ma sprinkled it with salt. Their hands and their faces got very hot, and Laura burned her finger, but she was so excited she did not care. Roasting the pig's tail was such fun that it was hard to play fair, taking turns. 

At last it was done. It was nicely browned all over, and how good it smelled! They carried it into the yard to cool it and even before it was cool enough they began tasting it and burned their tongues. 

They ate every little bit of meat off the bones and then they gave the bones to Jack.

Can you blame me? At Tosca, the experience was less magical. The waitress brought us a plate of small, chunky vertebrae, each one with a tiny morsel of meat, a lot of fat, some rind, and, above all, bone. This was an extremely bony experience. I can not recommend it, but I understand if you need to satisfy your curiosity anyway. Laura Ingalls Wilder was one powerful food writer.

Other than pastas, I think there were four entree options, one of them being grilled lamb heart and another a roasted chicken for which you needed to wait an hour. This meant there were actually two entree options, fish and a pork chop. I had the pork chop, which was crispy on the outside, juicy and almost pink on the inside and so, so good. Mark had some rich, cheesy pasta shells. I think we consumed about 4,000 calories each. An excellent meal.

Isabel and I leave for Asia in almost exactly 16 hours. I'm at that point where I wonder why I ever thought this was a good idea.
I bought several pounds of 50-cent paperbacks at the library sale yesterday with the idea I can leave them behind in Burma and Thailand when I'm done. A lot of my choices, as usual, were aspirational. If I get on the plane to Yangon with only Clarissa, maybe I'll finally read it! Or. . .  maybe I won't. Maybe I'll end up watching Adam Sandler movies and anything else they're offering on China Airlines, anything at all, to avoid formidable reading material. It's happened before.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, it's just funny how we humans keep striving while knowing full well that we will almost surely fail. 

43 comments:

  1. My grandfather was an old-time butcher and after reading Little House I begged him for a pig tail. I was probably about age 7 or 8 and wanted to roast it in the fireplace like my brother and I did hot dogs. He looked at me like I asked him for maggots and then said "that part of the pig was only good for grinding up into sausage". Thanks for the doing the research for me and proving him correct. As to travel and books- I would not go anywhere without my much adored Kindle. Safe trip!

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    1. A Kindle would certainly save worry about baggage fees. I left so many books behind in Thailand.

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  2. That sounds like a perfect date. I do the same thing with aspirational reading. Have a fantastic trip with Isabel!

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    1. Sometimes the aspirational reading plan works. . . I read Moll Flanders!

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  3. What a thrilling adventure you and Isabel are undertaking! I wish you many unexpected encounters and delights, and safe and easy travels all around. Bon Vonage!

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    1. darn typos -- Bon Voyage!!!

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    2. Thanks! Very belatedly.

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  4. You are going to read Bangkok 8 and sequels on a trip to Thailand? I bet they will give you a different perspective on what you see.

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    1. Bangkok 8 shaped my image of Bangkok -- and the city didn't quite measure up. Thank God!

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  5. Amen to Laura Ingalls Wilder being a powerful food writer. I was actually not a huge Little House fan growing up, but I did latch on to Farmer Boy for some reason, and I still think about the descriptions of the food. I'd love to try fried apples and onions.

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    1. You can! There's a "Little House Cookbook" (which I don't own, alas) but here is that recipe: http://www.democratandchronicle.com/story/lifestyle/rocflavors/recipes/2013/08/04/sample-fried-apples-n-onions-other-laura-ingalls-wilder-food/2615665/

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    2. Farmer Boy was the ultimate food book! Those meals.

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  6. Well, this may lure me to Tosca, to try a pig's tail. Although I think that Bud's Meats might just sell me one, and I can toast it on an unbent wire coat hanger over the Weber. I read all those books many, many, MANY times, and wish that I had not learned stuff in recent years about Mrs. Wilder's politics that somewhat dishearten me. I had always assumed that she and I would get along famously . . . Have a great trip! Also, it is totally fine never to have read Clarissa. I slogged through Pamela, and wish I had those three months back. Although I would not have loved Shamela so much if I had not done the scut work first.

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    1. Also, that should be "disheartenS."

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    2. It's hard to know with the classics. Do you slog or do you just write them off? The one that looms for me is Moby Dick.
      What are Mrs. Wilder's politics? It sounds like I don't want to know.

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  7. Love this post! Growing up, I wanted to eat everything in the Little House books!

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  8. Love this post! Growing up, I wanted to eat everything in the Little House books!

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    1. I wanted to live in those books.

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  9. I think Laura Ingalls Wilder's experiences of extreme hunger (The Long Winter) and of general food scarcity (seeing the crops destroyed by hail, locusts, birds etc. must have been extraordinarily disheartening) probably had a huge impact on how she viewed food and wrote about it. There really is a lot in the entire series about what they ate, how they prepared it, and how they stored it -- which makes sense when I think that activities related to food occupied almost all of her and her parents' time, with clothing and shelter coming in close seconds.

    I do recommend the Pioneer Girl Annotated Autobiography for fans of the Little House books. It's a wonderfully well-researched tome and highly enjoyable.

    Have a wonderful trip! I admire your book ambitions. I know myself too well to think I'd read anything even remotely that challenging on the plane, which seems to suck out 90% of my brain power and leave me just barely capable of leafing through The Economist at best.

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    1. My father gave me the Pioneer Girl book -- I haven't read it yet, but shall. (I own Rad American Women, I think thanks to your suggestion.)

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  10. Well, if April Bloomfield can't make pig tail taste amazing then maybe it's not meant to be. I loved those Little House books, and reread a bunch of them recently. I just started on The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure, a memoir about revisiting those books and trying to see some of the places the Ingalls family lived, along with other Little House related tourism. It's good so far! The author definitely gets at some of what I experienced as a kid, wanting to be in that world. I'd tentatively recommend it!

    I think a lot of kids felt that deep connection with the food writing in particular. I actually had a writing class in college where we analyzed Little House in the Big Woods along with Thoreau's Walden. The prose really is fantastic. And, as my teacher reasoned, kids are so food focused when they're young like Laura was supposed to be in that book. Or, at least, I was!

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    1. So interesting, you actually studied Little House in college? You must be a lot younger than I am, I can't imagine that happening in the 1980s.

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  11. I read all the Little House books as a child. My favorite was Plum Creek, for some reason. Think about how poor that family was! In Plum Creek they lived in a dug-out hillside for a while! As in, a glorified hole in the ground! Such scarcity of food and resources. I was terribly smitten with the whole idea of ye olde times. I even bought myself a kerosene lamp. And a bonnet. No lie.

    I don't LOVE my Kindle, but it is very good for trips. Years ago, I did the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and made the conscious decision to bring a few NYT Sunday crossword puzzles, which weighed a couple of ounces, rather than books, just because I was such a wimp about unnecessarily weighing down my backpack. Were I to do it again, I'd bring the Kindle.

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    1. There's a theory that kids fall into two reading categories: fantasy or pioneer/realism. You like Lion, Witch and the Wardrobe or Little House. Like you, I was DEFINITELY pioneer.

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  12. I would so love a hot pressed sandwich that is salty, gooey, wonderfully greasy and delicious...right now! Alas, Tosca is too far a drive. I agree about Laura Ingalls Wilder being a powerful food writer. I still think about the maple syrup candies and some dessert they made with snow (the details on that one are fuzzy). I tried calling my dad "Pa" for a while, but it never stuck.
    Have a fabulous time in Thailand! What a wonderful gift to travel with Isabel. I look forward to reading about it.

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    1. The maple syrup episode was indelible.

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  13. Right after I read this post, I saw that pig's tail is one of the new foods at the Minnesota State Fair!

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  14. On the banks of plum creek was my favorite too. Hope you are having a wonderful vacation!

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