John Kominicki

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The Sidecar: A Three-wheeling Classic

Harry’s New York Bar in Paris is famous for having concocted dozens of classic cocktails over the years, including the Bloody Mary, the Monkey Gland and the French 75.

Some of the stories are even true. One that is decidedly not is the tale of the Sidecar, which perfectly blends orange liqueur, lemon juice and cognac into a warming, trusty-old-friend of a drink that’s perfect for fall evenings and football afternoons.

(As with all old friends, a little caution is not misplaced. They can steal up on you.)

Harry’s owner Harry MacElhone initially credited the Sidecar to Pat MacGarry, the bartender at Buck’s Club in London during the Jazz Age, but the recipe apparently proved too popular not to crib. By the time Harry’s book “Barflies and Cocktails” came out in 1927, MacElhone was claiming the drink’s invention was all his.

That story remained unchallenged until 1948, when American attorney David Embury published his authoritative “The Fine Art of Making Drinks,” in which he gave credit to an American army captain stationed in Paris during World War I and linked the drink’s name to the motorcycle and sidecar the officer purportedly rode.

Embury’s version has long since been debunked by the drinking establishment, which maintains that the Sidecar is really an offshoot of a 19th Century New Orleans drink called the Brandy Crusta, which combined cognac and orange curaçao with a few splashes of bitters, lemon juice and simple syrup.

And the name? Many mixologists note that “sidecar” is bar slang for the glass of extra drink you get when the bartender over-mixes for the size of the regular serving glass. No army officers required.

Origins aside, there remain two competing schools of thought on measurement. The so-called French school calls for equal parts of each of the three ingredients; the English school calls for two shots of cognac to one shot each of triple sec and lemon. Personal variations abound. Reducing the lemon juice to under an ounce is popular; increasing the cognac ratio is even more so.

I’m definitely an English schooler.

Use a good French cognac or California brandy and Cointreau or Grand Marnier, which have sweetness but depth. Your lemon juice should be freshly squeezed, of course. Shake, strain and garnish with orange peel.

The only remaining question is whether you should sugar the rum of your glass, which became popular in the 1930s. Purists eschew the practice because it upsets the drink’s delicate balance of sweet, smoke and citrus, although you can easily adjust the other ingredients to restore balance if you like a sugary lead.

After all, as Crosby Gaige noted in his 1941 classic “сocktail Guide and Ladies’ Companion,” Cocktails, by definition, “are ruled and governed by the caprice and creative instinct of each individual mixer.”

Then sit back and imagine you’re at Harry’s, where – true story – Gershwin used the house piano to compose “An American in Paris” and – less true – the young James Bond lost both his briefcase and virginity in a single night.

I’m betting Sidecars were involved.

The Omega Conundrum: Are You Getting Enough of This Essential Fatty Acid?

Craig Zalvan, a scientist at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research on Long Island, published research last month that suggests a plant-centric diet battles acid reflux better than popular medicines.

He suggests eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, grains and nuts. Foods to avoid? Dairy, eggs, beef, chicken, fish, pork, coffee, tea, chocolate, soda, greasy and fried food, spicy foods, fatty foods and alcohol.

Let’s call it the Serf Diet. Not much need for a cookbook!

Luckily, there are tweaks we can make to our eating habits that aren’t quite so draconian. That requires generally leaning toward the Mediterranean Diet, which features lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts, small amounts of meat, large amounts of fish and plenty of good bread, all washed down with a modest amount of red wine.

(OK, I added the red wine part.)

Beyond curing your acid reflux, the Med Diet gives you a balance between omega-3s and omega-6s, two fats our bodies need but don’t have the enzymes to produce, hence the term “essential” fatty acids.

Unlike most fats, which provide energy or are stored by the body for later use, omega-3s and 6s are biologically active and play big roles in processes like blood clotting and inflammation. Inflammation helps protect our bodies from infection and injury – the swelling around a sprained ankle, say – but it can also contribute to disease when the inflammatory response goes overboard.

Excess inflammation plays a role in everything from heart disease to diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s and many types of cancers. Reduced inflammation is credited with lowering  the risk of osteoporosis and bone loss, reducing anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder and improving cognitive function.

Food historians say humans once consumed equal amounts of the two fats, the omega-3s from foods like fish, nuts and dark green vegetables, the omega-6s from dairy and poultry. But the rise of packaged foods after World War II led to a surge in omega-6 fats in the western diet, largely from the use of vegetable oils.

The average American now consumes 15 times more omega-6s than 3s.

(Feeling puffy? Now you know.)

Boosting your omega-3 intake isn’t hard. Here are a few tips to get your omega balance down to a healthier 4 to 1 ratio:

Add more fish: Especially fatty, cold-water fish like salmon, trout and halibut, sardines and fresh tuna, but oysters and shrimp are good, too. Oh, and caviar.

Check the oil: Canola is the best bet for frying and sautéing; use olive oil for sauces and dressings. Check the label on everything else.

Go green: Kale, spinach, broccoli and brussels sprouts are all high in omega-3s. Ditto cauliflower. And avocados.

Watch the eggs: Farmers increase the omega-3s in egg yolks by feeding their hens flaxseed and fish oil. That’s good. But eating one small piece of salmon a week provides more omega-3s than two eggs a day. And a fraction of the cholesterol.

Perfect omega-3 menu: Spinach salad with walnuts in an olive oil-based vinaigrette, salmon cakes with ginger sauce, flax seed-chocolate cookies for dessert.

Don’t forget the wine.

OMEGA-3 SOURCES: Anchovies, arugula, baby food, basil, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, canola oil, capers, caviar, chia seeds, cloves, cod liver oil, edamame, egg yolks, flax seeds, fruit juice, grape leaves, halibut, hemp seeds, herring, kale, macadamia nuts, mackerel, margarine, mayonnaise, milk, mint, mustard, oatmeal, oregano, oysters, pine nuts, pizza, pumpkin seeds, salad dressing, salmon, salmon oil, sardines, sea vegetables, shad, soy milk, spinach, squash, tarragon, trout, turnip greens, tuna, walnuts, wheat germ, white fish, yogurt.

The Negroni: 007’s Back-up Beverage

It’s September, time to start transitioning from the spritzers and other light quaffers you’ve used to tame these last hot months.

Time, in other words, to consider the Negroni, the enduring aperitivo that requires nothing more than an ounce each of gin, sweet red vermouth and Campari. Pour them over ice, stir, add a twist of orange peel and basta.

Refreshing and sophisticated, it’s a feint toward the heartier drinks of the coming cooler months, when whiskey and rye take the fore.

But it’s no slouch, either. The Negroni was Bond’s choice when he didn’t want a martini. And it’s the most honest of cocktails, cocktailista Nina Caplan notes in the New Statesman, made from a trio of ingredients that don’t try to hide sweeteners and exotic syrups.

“The Negroni fools no one,” she points out, “it’s easy to make and contains nothing but booze.”

Our kind of drink. But the Negroni’s simplicity belies its complex backstory, in which the heirs of competing noblemen – one an itinerant Italian, the other a Corsican-born French army general – claim the Negroni as their own. Almost to the point of blows. One side, in fact, has advocated dueling.

The most popular telling of the story centers on Florence-born Count Camillo Negroni, a bit of a tramp who spent much of his youth in America, as a cowboy, riverboat gambler and sometime fencing instructor.

Along the way, Negroni “learned enough about stud, keno, and faro to get broke and stay that way,” he told an American newspaper reporter in an account retold by cocktail historian David Wondrich. “Punching horses suited me to death.”

Then it was on to London for a few years and, in 1905, finally home to Florence and a less-adventurous life that centered on his favorite bar, the Café Casoni. His regular drink was the Americano, a refreshing but not particularly potent mix of Campari, soda water and sweet vermouth so named because it was popular with American tourists.

One night in 1919, the legend goes, the Count asked bartender Fosco Scarselli to substitute gin for the soda water, and the sturdier drink quickly caught on with the locals. Later that year, the Negroni family began selling the pre-mixed cocktail by the bottle – it’s still available from Negroni Antica Distilleria – and the Negroni became an Italian staple.

The cocktail didn’t come to widespread American attention until 1947, when Orson Welles, in Italy for the filming of “Black Magic,” sent home glowing reports to drinkers who were beginning to tire of post-Prohibition martinis and Manhattans.

“The bitters are excellent for your liver, the gin is bad for you,” he reported. “They balance each other.”

Fun story, right? But it is vigorously disputed by a pair of Puerto Rican-born brothers, Héctor and Noel Negroni, who claim a distant and long-deceased relative, General Pascal-Olivier de Negroni, also a count, invented the drink in 1860.

Born in Corsica in 1829, this Count Negroni joined the French army at the age of 18 and was a decorated cavalryman – including the Legion of Honor – during the Franco Prussian War. He served almost 45 years before retiring to a small town in Normandy, where he died in 1913.

The brothers maintain that the general, a fourth cousin, invented the drink while serving in West Africa. They’ve led a vigorous and emotionally charged campaign on social media to supplant the Camillo story and have banged heads repeatedly with the editors of Wikipedia.

At this point, if you’re smart, you’re saying pass the gin and let the Negronis fight it out as they will. Good idea, but one that begs this question: Which gin?

Glad you asked. Tanqueray is a decided favorite, as is Hendricks, Martin Miller’s Reformed London Dry and Plymouth Navy Strength. On the vermouth front, you want Cocchi Vermouth di Torino if you can afford it.

And Campari. Beware the bartender who would slip you a Negroni made with Aperol or Gran Classico. Both legitimate bitters on their own, certainly, but not for use in a Negroni.

Purists look for long-shelved bottles of Campari that get their red from traditional carmine dye, derived from crushed cochineal beetles that impart a flavor they say artificial coloring, in use since 2006, cannot match.

You need not be quite so fastidious. Settle on a gin, grab the Cocchi and Campari and enjoy the waning days of summer like a nobleman.

But do so responsibly. Anthony Bourdain once took down his entire production crew by serving Negronis made faithfully with the classic three ingredients. But using a bottle of each.

The drink, he warns, will “hit you like a freight train after four or five.”

High on The Hog: Building a World Class Charcuterie Board

Charcuterie
Photo by Charles Haynes

If you lean vegan, you’ll want to turn the page. This is all about meat, overwhelmingly pork, smoked and air-cured and terrined, whole legs and loins and, oh yes, the nasty bits, ground and spiced and packed into the pig’s own plumbing.

The French call it charcuterie, from an archaic expression meaning “cooked flesh.” In Italian it’s salumi, honoring the Latin word for salt, the world’s preservative for more than 6,000 years.

(They say aufschnitten in Berlin, further proof that German is not a Romance Language.)
While preserved meats never fell out of favor at ethnic delicatessens, they have staged a spirited comeback at white-tablecloth restaurants and discerning homes, where the charcuterie board has become de rigueur at cocktail parties and casual get-togethers.

Purists stick to meats, served with bread, mustard and an acidic component like cornichons or pickled onions, sometimes offset with figs or grapes or preserves. But growing numbers of restaurants and home foodies have merged their charcuterie with the cheese board, producing groaning platters that add cow and sheep cheeses, olives, nuts, rillettes, patés and more.

Locally, you’ll find hog heaven at Mirabelle in Stony Brook, Publicans in Manhasset and the sister bars Salumi Tapas and Plancha Tapas, the first in Massapequa, the second in Garden City.

Another standout: Tullulah’s in Bay Shore, where there are more than a dozen possible additions, including everything from duck prosciutto to pickled brussel sprouts.
Planning to build your own “board” for a coming soiree, or simply heading to the deli for an Italian sandwich? Here’s what you need to know.

Mortadella: Made from finely ground pork and the pig’s neck fat, mortadella is traditionally studded with pistachios and black peppercorns and sweetened with nutmeg and myrtle berries. A staple of Bologna, mortadella is the artisanal masterpiece from which the American lunchbox sandwich devolved.

Prosciutto: The most famous variety, di Parma, has a slightly sweet and nutty flavor; di San Daniele is sweeter and darker in color.

Salami Piccante: This is what Americans call pepperoni. Made in Calabria, it gets its flavor and color from red peppers and paprika. Usually made from pork, but everything from beef and boar to goat and donkey – sorry, Eeyore – have occasionally made their way into the mix. And remember: Salami is salumi but not necessarily the other way around.

Soppressata: Originally from southern Italy, this dry-cured sausage was initially made principally from pork, although it has picked up numerous regional riffs on its trip north, including hot peppers in Calabria, extra lard in Puglia and, in Tuscany, a makeover that swapped out choice cuts for trimmings.

Bresaola: Made from lean beef, this one’s salted, air-dried, and aged for at least six months. Bresaola has a distinct dark red, almost purplish color and a tough, lean texture, so have your butcher slice it paper thin.

Copa or Capocollo: One from Emilia Romagna, the other from Calabria, pretty much the same deal. Both are made using the muscle from the neck of the hog, then dry-cured, often with hot paprika.

Guanciale: Like pancetta but less fatty, Guanciale is made from the jowls of hogs, with the meat rubbed with pepper before aging. Great on a board or sandwich and you can’t make authentic spaghetti alla carbonara without it.

Nduja: This spreadable treat is made from as much as 80 percent pork fat, plus lean cuts, herbs and a generous mix of Calabrian peppers, which provide heat and color. Pronounced, variously, DOO-ja or DOO-ya, it originated in the town of Spilinga, where a three-day nduja fest is held annually in early August.

Lonza: Cured and air-dried pork loin, usually seasoned with black pepper or fennel. Plays nicely with other meats on the board. The French have a smoked version called Filet de Coche Fumé.

Lardo: Pork fatback cured with herbs and spices, often rosemary. The most prized variations come from Italy’s Aosta Valley, where pigs are fed a diet of chestnuts and vegetables. Lardo on toast with a drizzle of honey is traditional. And yum.

Mocetta: From the northwestern region of Italy, mocetta is traditionally made of cured beef, although often with goat or wild game such as deer or boar. The meat is usually marinated in wine with bay leaves and juniper berries, then salted and air dried. Slice it thin, although locals often eat it in chunks, with swigs of brandy. (Gotta love the locals.)

Saucisson sec: The French answer to salami, these hard sausages, usually pork but sometimes a mix, often white with edible mold, are traditionally three quarters lean meat and a quarter pork back-fat, called bardière. Serve it thinly sliced on the bias.

Merguez: Made from lamb, sometimes beef, and heavily spiced with cumin and chili or harissa, plus sumac, fennel and garlic. Usually grilled, but the dried version of this North African sausage is also a great addition to a charcuterie board.

Jamon Ibérico: The king of Spanish hams – and priced so –Ibérico ham gets its funky flavor from the all-acorn diet of black, short-haired pigs that roam the oak forests on the Spain-Portugal border. Also, try Lomo Ibérico sausage, made from the tenderloin of the same animals.

Other Spanish meats worth considering include the ever-popular chorizo, a rice-filled blood sausage called Morcilla and the garlicky Butifarra.

And don’t forget German and Eastern European contributions. Even Ireland has an up-and-coming cured-meat scene.

If you’re building a board at home, the experts suggest offering three to five varieties of meat, a good mustard and a pickled item or two. And crusty bread, of course.

We all need an excuse to eat more bread. 

From The Publisher’s Desk

Hey. Good to see you. It’s been awhile.

Since March 2014, in fact. You remember it, maybe. Malaysian Airlines 370 gone missing. Russia annexing Crimea. North Korea with the missiles already. Lady Gaga in concert, belting “Swine” from atop a roasting pig.

And the last print issue of the Long Island Press – the last one before this one, let’s call it. Local-born “Saturday Night Live” alum Jim Breuer on the cover, drinking coffee with our reporter in Chester, N.J. Inside, there was an update on Oheka’s Gary Melius, shot but surviving, and a few pages back the horoscope predicted “demonstrations of love and affection during your Uranus transit.”

That was not the original Press, of course, once Long Island’s most popular daily, the crown jewel of the Newhouse newspaper chain and a beloved first job for everyone from celebrity detective Bo Dietl to Vito Turso, now the No. 2 guy at NYC’s Department of Sanitation.

Future governor Mario Cuomo was a prominent Press devotee and TV news personality Geraldo Rivera, who delivered the paper as a 12-year-old Babylon resident, credits one of the paper’s carrier contests with opening up the wide, wide world he would later cover.

“Aside from the fact that it taught me business, costs and profits, the thing that I really loved was you got tickets to Yankee Stadium and the Steeplechase at Coney Island,” Rivera said. “So the Long Island Press really was an eye-opening experience for me. It’s still a big part of my nostalgic recollections of life on Long Island.”

Though a Queens publication by birth – it dates back to the 1800s – the Press followed the post-World War II building boom into Nassau and Suffolk counties and by the late 1960s had a commanding circulation of 450,000.

“The Sunday paper was so thick I had to reload my bike four times to deliver my route,” remembers John Culbertson, a Press carrier in the 1960s and now president of tech firm IPLAN Access.

But the picture had changed dramatically by the 1970s. Newsday had emerged as the Island’s leading daily, in both readership and advertising space. The Press management was battling its unions over pay and benefits, and the unions weren’t budging. The 1973 recession shut down many local businesses and forced others to cut back on their ad buys.

The Press lost money for three years running before Newhouse decided to pull the plug. By then, circulation was down to less than 250,000 copies. Press’ editor David Starr delivered the story to the newsroom at 5 a.m. on March 25, 1977. “Today’s issue is the last,” the headline read.

“Our costs have inexorably risen while our revenue has inexorably shrunk,” the accompanying story said. The layoffs totaled 600. The Press building, a giant brick shrine to newspapering built on 168th Street in the 1930s, remained idle until it was torn down in 2005 to make room for a Home Depot.

Act II. The Press was reborn in 2003 by Jed Morey, whose father owned the legendary alternative rock station WLIR. The initial idea was to create a music-focused paper to complement the station and its varied events. Newhouse had so thoroughly abandoned its former Long Island jewel that the name was available, trademark-free.

“My original plan was for a glossy local magazine with quippy editorials and celebrity profiles,” Jed said. “In other words, exactly what the Island didn’t need. Instead we formulated a plan to launch a Long Island-centric alt-weekly that would inform and entertain readers without alienating them. An-alt weekly with suburban sensibilities, if you will.”

Jed’s dad sold WLIR a year later, but the new Press charged forward without it, mixing entertainment with investigative reporting and political coverage and generally calling out anyone who would mess with anything Long Island. The staff was a quirky but talented bunch, mostly former Long Island Voice writers, led by the creatively restless Robbie Woliver.

While the awards stacked up, the checks didn’t, and the weekly Press was finally forced into monthly frequency in 2013, like its predecessor, hammered beyond recovery by a recession. That final print issue with Breuer on the cover was distributed a short 14 months later.

The Press has soldiered on, quite nicely thank you, as an online-only publication, serving up a few million page views per year. Still no stacks of checks, though.

Which brings us to the issue you’re holding. Josh and Vicki Schneps, owners of 20 or so papers in the NYC boroughs, acquired the Press in April and almost immediately set about bringing it back to print. The plan: a monthly trends and lifestyle publication fronted by some of the nowhere-else journalism that has won the Press so many awards over the years. They hired me to help.

There. You’re pretty much up to date.

A favor, though. We have more ideas than pages at this point, and building the new Press, perfecting its voice and content, will take time. We’re thrilled to have longtime staffer Tim Bolger as editor, plus a talented group of contributors, old and new, in our return to print.

And you, of course. Great to have you along for the ride. Should be fun. Tell me how we’re doing any time at jkominicki@longislandpress.com.