Russell Baker: Franks and Beans
In 1975, NY Times food critic Craig Claiborne bid $300 at a charity auction and was surprised to find that he had won, giving him the chance to dine at the restaurant of his choice, anywhere in the world, with no limit on the cost. He chose to eat at the virtually unknown Parisian establishment, Chez Denis, with Pierre Franey. The 31-course dinner took five hours and included several bottles of very expensive wine. Craig Claiborne wrote about the meal in The New York Times under the ttle "Just a Quiet Dinner for Two in Paris: 31 Dishes, Nine Wines, a $4000 check". Soon after, Russell Baker's parody appeared.
OBSERVER / By RUSSELL BAKER
As chance would have it, the very evening Craig Claiborne ate his historic $4,000 dinner for two with 31 dishes and nine wines in Paris, a Lucullan repast for one was prepared and consumed in New York by this correspondent, no slouch himself when it comes to titillating the palate.
Mr. Claiborne won his meal in a television fund-raising auction and had it professionally prepared. Mine was created from spur-of-the-moment inspiration, necessitated when I discovered a note on the stove saying, "Am eating out with Dora and Imogene - make dinner for yourself." It was from the person who regularly does the cooking at my house and though disconcerted at first, I quickly rose to the challenge.
The meal opened with a 1975 Diet Pepsi, served in a disposable bottle. Although the bouquet was negligible, its distinct metallic aftertaste evoked memories of tin cans one had licked experimentally in the first flush of childhood's curiosity.
To create the balance of tastes so cherished by the epicurean palate, I followed with a p‰tŽ de fruites de nuts of Georgia, prepared according to my own recipe. A half-inch layer of creamy-style peanut butter is troweled onto a graham cracker, then half a banana is crudely diced and pressed firmly into the peanut butter and cemented in place as it were by a second graham cracker.
The accompanying drink was cold milk served in a wide-brimmed jelly glass. This is essential to proper consumption of the p‰tŽ, since the entire confection must be dipped into the milk to soften it for eating. In making the presentation to the mouth, one must beware lest the milk-soaked portion of the sandwich fall onto the necktie. Thus seasoned gourmandisers follow the old maxim of the Breton chefs and "bring the mouth to the jelly glass."
At this point in the meal, the stomach was ready for serious eating, and I prepared beans with bacon grease, a dish I perfected in 1937 while developing my cuisine du depression.
The dish is started by placing a pan over a very high flame until it becomes dangerously hot. A can of Heinz's pork and beans is then emptied into the pan and allowed to char until it reaches the consistency of hardening concrete. Three strips of bacon are fried to crisps, and when the beans have formed huge dense clots firmly welded to the pan, the bacon grease is poured in and stirred vigorously with a large screw driver.
This not only adds flavor, but also loosens some of the beans from the side of the pan. Leaving the flame high, I stirred in a three-day old spaghetti sauce found in the refrigerator, added a sprinkle of chili powder, a large dollop of Major Grey's chutney and a tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda to make the whole dish rise.
Beans and bacon grease is always eaten from the pan with a tablespoon while standing over the kitchen sink. The pan must be thrown away immediately. The correct drink with this dish is a straight shot of room-temperature gin. I had a Gilbey's 1975, which was superb.
For the meat course, I had fried bologna ˆ la Nutley, Nouveau Jersey. Six slices of A&P bologna were placed in an ungreased frying pan over maximum heat and held down by a long fork until the entire house filled with smoke. The bologna was turned, fried the same length of time on the other side, then served on air-filled white bread with thick lashings of mayonnaise.
The correct drink for fried bologna ˆ la Nutley, Nouveau Jersey is a 1927 Nehi Cola, but since my cellar, alas, had none, I had to make do with a second shot of Gilbey's 1975.
The cheese course was deliciously simple -- a single slice of Kraft's individually wrapped yellow sandwich cheese, which was flavored by vigorous rubbing over the bottom of the frying pan to soak up the rich bologna juices. Wine being absolutely de rigueur with cheese, I chose a 1974 Muscatel, flavored with a maraschino cherry, and afterwards cleared my palate with three-pickled martini onions.
It was time for the fruit. I chose a Del Monte tinned pear, which regrettably, slipped from the spoon and fell on the floor, necessitating its being blotted with a paper towel to remove cat hairs. To compensate for the resulting loss of pear syrup, I dipped it lighting in hot-dog relish which created a unique flavor.
With the pear I drank two shots of Gilbey's 1975 and one shot of Wolfschmidt vodka (non-vintage), the Gilbey's having been exhausted.
At last it was time for the dish the entire meal had been building toward -- dessert. With a paring knife, I ripped into a fresh package of Oreos, produced a bowl of My-T-Fine chocolate pudding which had been coagulating in the refrigerator for days and, using a potato masher, crushed a dozen Oreos in to the pudding. It was immense.
Between mouthfuls, I sipped a tall, bubbling tumbler of cool Bromo-Seltzer, and finished with six ounces of Maalox. It couldn't have been better.