Hemingway’s Hamburger: Papa’s Favorite

Earlier this year, I was perusing a Boston Globe story about some Ernest Hemingway papers from the writer’s years in Cuba that had just been donated to the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston.

A book editor who’s on the board of the Finca Vigía Foundation in Boston, which has been working on preserving Hemingway’s Cuba documents and bringing them to the United States, had told me of the story and I could not wait to read it. I’ve long been a Hemingway fan — an admirer of not just his work but also his appetite for life, food and drink.

So it was unsurprising that one line in the story about what the new papers contained struck me: “And the more mundane, like his instructions to the household staff, including how to prepare his hamburgers: ground beef, onions, garlic, India relish, and capers, cooked so the edges were crispy but the center red and juicy.”

Hemingway’s ideal burger? I had to find out more.

Many weeks and a few burgers later, I wrote about my quest to recreate Hemingway’s hamburger in The Paris Review.

I won’t go into details — you can read more there. But for the recipe and another glimpse of the burger, click right here …

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Belle Harbor Steak House (Rockaway Park, N.Y.): Back to the Basics

There’s something to be said for a solid, old-school meal.

What this means varies, of course, depending on where you are. In the U.S., I’ve always relished the mom-and-pop low-key restaurants that still roll out unfussy, decades-old standbys — hot turkey platters, melts, meatloaf and more. (If you’ve read “A Tiger in the Kitchen,” you’ll know what a meatloaf obsessive I am.)

I find myself craving these meals when it gets a little chilly. And so on a recent rainy day, we found ourselves heading over to a little restaurant called Belle Harbor Steak House in Rockaway Park, New York.

I’d caught a glimpse of the menu a few days before and it seemed like just the place to warm you up on a cold drizzly afternoon …

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Breezy Dogs & Shakes (Breezy Point, N.Y.): A Dog Day of Summer

Lunchtime on a hot summer’s day and two small boys are very silently perched on a bench near Fort Tilden Beach.

They’re still; their eyes a little glazed. Finally, one breaks the stupor to very slowly say, “These are soooo good.”

The source of their trance is at their elbows — two almost empty cups of thick, cold milkshakes and the carcass of lunch. At this point, sous chef and I have just gotten off a sunny bus ride all the way to the end of the Q22 line at Rockaway Beach, all in search of this mythical Breezy Dog food truck we’d been reading about.

From the look of the fog these boys were in, lunch was starting to seem worth the ride …

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The Wharf (Rockaway Beach, N.Y.): A View — With Food on the Side

Remember how I mentioned that people love to tell me where I must eat when I travel?

Well, The Wharf in New York‘s Rockaway Beach is certainly not one of those places.

Check it out, yes — I definitely heard that. With its outdoor dining deck with sweeping views of the water and Manhattan’s skyline in the distance, The Wharf’s vista for a sunset cocktail can’t be beat. But eat? We had read and heard enough about the food to know there were probably better restaurants in Rockaway Beach.

Even so, on a recent evening, as our cocktails on that famous deck were disappearing, the vaunted view was nudging us to stay.

How bad could the food truly be? We decided to find out …

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Lemon-Garlic Yellow Beans: A Summery Side

I may not be the biggest fan of vegetables but summer, with its vibrant farmers markets, always manages to lure me to the green side.

Or, as this week had it, the yellow side.

A late-afternoon visit to my neighborhood market this week yielded a lovely surprise — bags of bright yellow string beans going for just 50 cents.

What to do with them? I decided to take them home and see …

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Easy Asian Tuna Salad: A Simple Keeper

A few months ago, I pledged on this blog that I’d be better about writing my own recipes down.

Sure, I’ve proven that I’m pretty adept at writing others’ recipes down. But when it comes to my own, dishes that I whip up with ingredients yanked willy-nilly from the fridge often don’t get reproduced for a simple reason: By the time the meal’s over, I’ve already forgotten what exactly it was that I did. (I’m still mourning the delicious tender beef in Sichuan peppercorn-soy sauce stew that I threw together recently and have no idea how to replicate.)

And so here’s another installment — for a dish so easy I actually think blogging about it is pretty silly. But hey, a pledge is a pledge. So if you want to learn about the Asian-inflected tuna salad I make at home, read on …

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Chicken a la Jesse: Dinner, A Revelation

In life, there are often moments where you hear something you just can’t believe.

“I am making dinner …” recently was one such moment for me. And as soon as my friend Jesse – whom you may recall from his sharing of some lovely photos of India nosh with us recently — spoke those words, I insisted on knowing all the details: What are you making? How are you making it?

And most important: You can cook?

Jesse is many things — a terrific journalist and a talented photographer for starters. But cook? This I had to see.

Soon enough, a little stash of photographs appeared in my inbox …

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Chicken Cutlets Meunière: A Book Club Find

A lovely thing about writing a book about food: People want to feed you.

There were gifts of chocolate in both Paris and San Francisco. In Chicago, a reader showed up at my Women & Children First book signing with a box of home-made beef rendang (Indonesian-style beef curry) so tender and so delicious that I still think about it with great longing. And in Singapore, a very sweet cookbook author came to my Books Kinokuniya reading bearing a packet of fried carrot cake — so freshly cooked it was still hot! — from a hawker stall so popular you generally have to line up for half an hour just to snag a plate.

Just as thoughtful as the food offerings have been the recipes readers have shared. Some have been in their families for generations; others are more avant garde.

And among them all is a recipe so simple (and terrific) that it’s now part of my regular rotation: Chicken cutlets Meunière, gleaned from a charming little book club in New York City

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Djerassi Resident Artists Program: A Man Named Dan

It’s not often that I am so taken with a person that I find myself immediately professing my adoration at every turn.

Recently, however, I met one such someone — a man named Dan, a chef who fed me well for a month in the mountains of California and who wowed me each day with the meals he set on the table.

For those who don’t follow me on Twitter, I just spent a month in Northern California at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, an artists colony that offers the gift of time and space to create. The program invites artists from various disciplines (musical composition, fiction, poetry, choreography, visual arts) to spend a month on the property — close to 600 acres of some of the most beautiful hills and forests I’ve seen — with nothing to do except wake up every morning, have a cup of coffee and start working.

Such colonies have been a lifesaver for me — I wrote the bulk of “A Tiger in the Kitchen” over seven weeks at Yaddo in 2010. (My book never would have made it out on time had it not been for my time there.) As many artists will testify, you can often accomplish in weeks at a colony what would likely take you months or more at home.

And this certainly was true for me at Djerassi …

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Pier 23 Cafe (San Francisco): Bacon, Oysters and A Beer

If you, like me, head to the Ferry Building each time you come to San Francisco, you’ll know the problem that lies ahead.

After all the honey sniffing, cheese poking and book browsing you’ve done, a question inevitably arises: Where to get a lovely drink and nibble with a sweeping view of the water and Bay Bridge?

If it’s anytime after 4:30 p.m. or so and you’d like a comfy spot in the Ferry Building — good luck. Some of the places there have such terrific happy hours that you’ll be battling swarms of commuters and tourists all looking to belly up.

On a recent visit, however, my friend Matt had a better plan. Outside, on the Embarcadero, he started going north, pushing head-on into thick gales determined to blow us back. After a few minutes, our struggles were over when we came upon a little shack of a building.

From the palm trees plastered on its side and the kitschy neon sign that said “Pier 23,” I knew this would be the perfect spot …

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