A Touch of Halftime Class
The republic’s annual distraction of rapacious “super-sized self importance,” as one of my more delightfully haughty friends used to sniff, is upon us, with the airwaves so fiercely inundated with Super Bowl hype, blitz and buzz, an aesthete has to seriously consider escaping it altogether or embracing it with a modicum of dignified gusto. With mammoth snows forecast in the east and recessionary nerves craving a bit of guilt-free jauntiness, I thought I might introduce a small semblance of sensibility into the equation by suggesting a few refined counter measures one might take to keep what marketers are hailing as “the last Tyrannosaurus roaming the Earth” in perspective.
First, a bit of reality. While I enjoy the game of football as much as the next, the program appearing on your over-sized wall mounted plasma screen TV is so far removed from the actual sport, one wonders if, like politics, being duped, manipulated and desensitized is seriously embedded in the national consciousness. With so much competition for air time between exorbitantly paid, stylishly suited, excessively caffeinated on-air talent bellowing out play by plays amidst mind-numbing statistics spliced against obscenely expensive ad messages, (ten yard penalty flag brought to you by Anheuser-Busch), and those over preening stage-struck ticket holders in the stands mugging for the camera, exhibiting all manner of sophomoric stunts, the world is reminded once again that we Americans are, in fact, something of a crass lot of people.
Lest you feel shame and remorse for the colossal vulgarity of it all, herewith, a small sampling of food, a common sense bit of etiquette and a cherished memory taken from another gourmand from the 1950’s when football was still a game of pass and catch.
I can think of no better role model for this day than our lady of the ladle herself – Julia Child who once declared “life itself” as “the proper binge.” Julia would have marked this day with friends, food, conviviality and, of course, a well-laden table, not a tricked out digital console, serving as her centerpiece.
My recommendation for the ideal accompaniment to football (in lieu of woefully unappetizing chicken wings and nachos) is Julia’s version of Bruschetta, made by Julie Powell in the film “Julie and Julia,” one of the more memorable culinary scenes in cinematic history. Ironically, the dish featured in the movie was not part of Julia’s repertoire, but was developed for the film by food stylist Susan Spungen.* Yet, with all due respect to the Master of French Cooking herself, I feel certain she and her beloved husband, Paul, would have relished a dish that drools down the chin.
Bruschetta the Julia Child Way
1 loaf of quality rustic bread, sliced into one inch slices
1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
Olive Oil to coat your frying pan, or as much oil as you like!
An assortment of ripe heirloom tomatoes , cut into smallish chunks
Fresh basil leaves, torn or cut into pieces
Olive oil to dress the tomatoes
Salt (preferably Sea) and Pepper to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese – optional.
Mix the tomatoes and basil. Drizzle on olive oil and toss gently; then salt and pepper the tomatoes. The more salt you use, the more juice is released. Allow to marinate while you prepare the bread.
In a skillet, brown the bread slices in the olive oil on both sides, until it’s a nice golden color. Remove the bread from the pan.
Rub cut half of garlic over one side of fried bread so the garlic “melts” into the bread.
Place the toasted bread on a beautifully decorative platter or cutting board.
Spoon the tomatoes (with oil and accumulated juices) over bread. Top with chopped basil, Parmesan and more sea salt to taste.
Serve with plenty of napkins on hand along with wine, beer, and cocktails of choice.
It is hard to imagine a day free of friends when all the world is reminding you that you bloody well need them to share in this cataclysmic event of unsurpassed proportion. Even sports naysayers are condemned to participate through the sheer decibel levels of the collective national will.
While this aesthete is well aware of the group drink mentality that prevails at such gatherings, (each time hurricane Katrina is mentioned, drink one, each time they show Kim Kardashian in the stands, drink five), do make an attempt to err on the side of prudence for the sake of your reputation, your livelihood, future friendships, and marital tranquility. Nothing is more stunningly offensive or long remembered as a loquacious dipsomaniac, or to the more illiterately inclined, babbling drunkard.
Again, I defer to the quintessential high priestess of propriety in matters of decorum and behavior, Emily Post, who wisely advises abstinence when it comes to the art of conversation.
Emily Post on Conversation
“Don’t pretend to know more than you do. To say you have read a book and then seemingly to understand nothing of what you have read, proves you a half-wit. Only the very small mind hesitates to say “I don’t know.”
Stop and think what you are saying! This is really the first, last and only rule. If you “stop” you can’t chatter or expound or flounder ceaselessly, and if you think, you will find a topic and a manner of presenting your topic so that your neighbor will be interested rather than long-suffering.
Cynics say that those who take part in social conversation are bound to be either the bores or the bored; and that which you choose to be, is a mere matter of selection.”
And finally, a bit of old world charm from Christopher Kimball, editor and founder of Cook’s Illustrated magazine, who grew up during the 1950s in rural Vermont, where he spent many summers working as a farmhand. His most cherished memories were of the yellow farmhouse, where an eclectic gathering of workers met at noon for hearty meals of roast, potatoes, boiled greens, baking-powder biscuits, molasses cookies, and perhaps a pie. Some consider him the Julia Child of country cooking.
While the first Super Bowl wasn’t televised until January 15, 1967, and was known as the AFL-NFL World Championship Game (the term Super Bowl was officially anointed in 1970), simple games of football were being played all over dirt lots throughout the American landscape. Interestingly, from its earliest days as a mob game, football was considered a violent sport and was nearly banned in 1905 by President Theodore Roosevelt, who threatened to shut down the game for good unless changes were made to reduce death and injury. But suffice it to say that a board of well connected money grubbing jocks with dreams of former gridiron glory was assembled to intervene and … well, history tells the rest.
It was the spirit of those times in the 1950’s that say much about a softer, gentler way of life where simple ingredients were simply prepared and people found fellowship and warmth in the presence of each other.
Taken from The Yellow Farmhouse Cookbook.
”The Parlor seems smaller today than it did back in the 1950s. The faded green sofa where old Floyd used to hunker down with a cigarette hanging from his lower lip is gone, as is the sink with the hand pump and the dining table covered with the red and white checkered oilcloth, which was in use all day either for eating bread, or preparing dinner.
It was a busy room, never empty of visitors at any hour, really the town center for many decades. It is quiet now although I remember the stories told in the small parlor, tales that filled the room with a special cadence, a flash of wit, and a drawn-out adjective that spoke to the uncertainties of country living.
Perhaps most fondly I remember the smell of that parlor, the ripe scent of yeast, molasses, fresh bread, green wood, maple syrup, wood smoke and the pickled meats, a heady perfume that seeped into the wallpaper and floorboards and that remains today. It was a dark, still room, even in summer, since the closed windows were often steamed from the simmering water on the stove.
It was a world submersed in half-light, visitors appearing suddenly from the outside without warning, the sun at their backs, their approach having gone unnoticed. Marie Briggs was a short woman but sturdy, a good Vermont stock. With graying hair always turned in a bun, thick black framed glasses and sturdy black shoes. Like a well-conditioned athlete, she kept a steady pace all day, taking only two breaks, one for noon dinner and the other at four o’clock for tea, served with warm slabs of just baked country bread spread with a thick layer of rich yellow butter”.
However you choose to spend this nation’s de facto holiday, do it with verve, an abundance of joy, a dash of irony, and a few well practiced grimaces of wry amusement.
Photo (Top): The Roman Coliseum. Also known as the ancient version of television, a place of entertainment for the citizens of Rome. Today’s multimillion dollar stadiums of sponsored entertainment and gratuitous violence in the name of sport are the new amphitheatre of our times.
Photo: Emily Post by Miguel Covarrubias.