The Cooper Union Institute for Sustainable Design hosted the author James Howard Kunstler not long ago. Jim is the author of numerous books, including The Geography of Nowhere and The Long Emergency, among others, and the author of the blog Clusterfuck Nation. His lecture in the Great Hall was riveting; an analysis of the future of fossil fuel energy in this country, what travel, agriculture, and urbanity will look like. Here’s a typical insight: in the near future, high rises will be unsustainable not because of the energy needed to operate the HVAC systems and elevators, but because the capitol will not exist to pay for the scant and therefore costly fuel needed to make the replacement parts: the building’s skin, window units, and so on.
Anyway, after the lecture about 10 people came back to the loft for dinner. Earlier in the day I’d put together a few things. I defrosted a quart bag of chanterelles and another of porcinis that we’d collected over the summer in Colorado and sautéed them with butter, white wine, garlic, and thyme. With boiled orecchiette it would make a nice first course, served family style. I planned to serve codfish cooked with sweet potatoes for the main course, a great company dish because you can do so much ahead. I baked sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced them, and made a sauce with sautéed sliced onions and a few pints of my home-canned tomatoes. You place the sliced sweet potatoes into the sauce, and then right before dinner, tuck pieces of codfish or some other hunky white fleshed fish among the sweet potatoes and bake until the fish is translucent, then garnish with chopped flat-leafed parsley. I made a big arugula salad, purchased a few nice cheeses (Gorgonzola dolce, pecorino with truffles–not as fancy as it sounds but as good as it sounds–and stracchino, which was kind of like an embryonic mozzarella. I also poached pears ahead of time, in white wine and some apple cider and a sauce made from candy cap mushrooms for desert (both in my cookbook, The Kitchen Ecosystem). My daughter Carson had made about 1,000 ginger snaps to send to her cousin in boarding school, so we had some to serve with the pears. My friend John Truax, aka Beaver, at Flatiron Wines and Sprits, sent us a few bottles of Navarro Chardonnay from Mendocino 2010 to go with.
Once back at the loft (I skipped the question and answer period), I dug out a jar of orange bitters I made last year (recipe is in The Kitchen Ecosystem, but you can find a recipe online—just be sure to use an aromatic orange for the zest (sniff it). I use honeybells, which come in around January in Florida (I get mine at Ter Marsch Groves in Juno Beach, Florida; store at 13900 U.S. 1. (561) 626-1177). I mixed up a batch of quickie old fashioneds (bourbon and bitters over ice), and filled a few little bowls with olives, salted cashews, and pistachios.
Dinner went late and smoothly. It was relatively easy to stage because so much was made ahead of time, and it allowed me to actually enjoy myself some. Even clean up was pretty easy, as I’d washed the dishes as I’d cooked. But of course, I was tired the next day and didn’t want to fuss, so for dinner I made cabbage with bacon and pinoli nuts, leftover arugula salad, and cheese. And you know what? It was just as good.
Cabbage with Bacon and Pinoli Nuts
Serves 4 as a side dish, 2 as an entree
8 cups thinly sliced stone head cabbage
8 slices bacon
8 tablespoons pinoli nuts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leafed parsley (optional)
Fry the bacon in a large skillet until it is crispy. Drain, and retain the fat. Chop the bacon.
In a large skillet add about 4 tablespoons of the bacon fat. Heat over a medium heat and add the cabbage. Cook the cabbage, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, until soft. Add more bacon fat if necessary: the cabbage should be just barely glistening with fat. Add the pinoli nuts, chopped bacon, salt and pepper to taste. Cook for a few minutes more, stirring to combine the ingredients well. Garnish with the parsley if you like, and serve right away.