Alot of people think the life of a food writer and restaurant critic is a bowl of beluga caviar.
The truth is that occasionally it's having to summon the nerve to taste something you can't identify by sight -- or discovering that the whole broiled fish you're eating "isn't hollow," to put it nicely. And sometimes the dinner plate holds vegetables that may have been on the steam table long before you called for a reservation.
My ability to stomach this job must be credited to my mother.
She is a good cook -- mostly simple foods, she'd say, but my siblings and I learned to like liver and to try brains with scrambled eggs. As a small child, I even passed up the chicken drumsticks to claim the boney necks and the "scratchas," as my German grandfather called the feet.
Yes, the feet. Grandfather swore that eating them would make you better looking, and my mother abetted this trickery. Of course, I did eventually catch on and learn to claim my share of the wishbones -- that perfect piece of chicken that's sadly disappeared in this age of supermarket-butchered birds. And actually, the scratchas weren't bad, just sort of bland and chewy like cartilage. Early familiarity with them may have made me more open to trying new foods.
Like most Depression survivors, my mother is also a prudent cook. Throw out that dab of corn or cabbage after the third day? Heavens, no. She used to toss all the leftovers in the weekly stew; now she just microwaves them one more time. While I don't find the flavor of food improves in proportion to the number of times it is reheated, thanks to Mom, I know a leftover when I meet one.
Negative comments were usually tolerated. Once, however, I must have said something particularly scathing about a fried egg I refused to eat at breakfast.
When I went to the supper table, it was there at my place -- cold and congealed. The rest of the family had gathered early to witness my reaction when I was told that I couldn't have anything else until I ate that egg. The look on my face made them laugh.
And I felt angry and humiliated and determined to starve before I would touch that plasticized yolk.
My mother relented, fortunately, so I did not give up eating forever and now earn my living at it.
This recipe for Salzburger Nockerlin offers an unusual and delicious way to serve eggs.
"Nockerlin" is Austrian slang for "something light, round and puffy," according to Heinz Prast, owner of The Chimney, an Austrian-Swiss restaurant in Dallas. "You don't find it in the German dictionary. It's from the Salzburg and Tirolean area, where you might say about a baby, 'She's a Nockerlin.' "
Salzburger Nockerlin is a vanilla souffle dumpling. It also has a surprise. Hidden beneath its golden exterior are tart red lingonberries, a small variety of cranberry that grows wild in the mountains of Scandinavian countries. Fresh lingonberries are not available here, but canned ones can be found at import stores. You can also substitute cooked cranberries.
Serves two to three.
1/2 cup hot milk
3 tablespoons lingonberries
5 egg whites
3 egg yolks
4 tablespoons sugar (divided use)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons sifted flour
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Butter three individual souffle dishes (or an oval casserole 8 to 9 inches long) and sprinkle with a little sugar. Divide hot milk among the dishes and add 1 tablespoon lingonberries to each. Set aside.
Beat egg whites until firm. Slowly add 2 tablespoons of the sugar and beat again until stiff. In a separate bowl, mix the egg yolks with remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and vanilla, then slowly fold into the egg whites. Sift flour into egg mixture, folding in well.
Drip dumpling of the souffle mixture into the prepared dishes. Bake at 375 degrees 10 to 12 minutes or until golden. Dust with powdered sugar and serve immediately.