Ernie’s Dishes

We live in a colorful neighborhood. The day before a dinner at our friend Ernie’s house, I was out talking a walk and met Ant Patty (who is not a true aunt so she drops the “u”). “Ernie’s been working on his dinner for days,” she said. “but he’s not doing it for us, he’s doing it for you.”

Ernie at his stove

I don’t think he’s doing it for me. I think he’s doing it because he loves to do it. And he loves to share it with people — fortunately including me.

“No,” she said. “He likes to try to dazzle you when you come over.” That’s good, I said — I like to try to dazzle him, too.

Ernie is a great cook, and is one of my very best friends. I like to share special things with him when I’ve got them. I’ll call him and say, “Ern, I’ve got a Kobe flatiron steak…” or “Ern, I’ve got some Iberico bellota ham from Spain…” or “Ern, the chanterelles are popping up… let’s go picking.”

I like the way Ernie cooks. It’s different than the way I cook. I get hooked on grand concepts or themes, working at my dinners intellectually, like an architect planning a series of buildings, gardens and courtyards. Ernie rolls up his sleeves, chops, sautes and broils. Dishes emerging from his kitchen have a focused clarity I admire. The evening of the dinner — our annual Oscars dinner, in fact — began cleverly, with theater boxes of the most delicious buttered popcorn. Next was the simplicity and elegance of naked Fanny Bay oysters, served with grated horseradish and good champagne. This was followed by fat Dungeness crab cakes, thick with snowy meat and a light cream sauce; and then Japanese yakitori of asparagus wrapped in thinly shaved bacon and cooked on the grill. The final course was plump, perfectly cooked mussels bathed in a red lemongrass sauce and served with thick slices of grilled rustic bread. The only theme to the dinner was goodness… and it was good. Dessert was designated (another skill I have trouble with) to Ant Patty and friend Catherine, who performed admirably with a sensational blueberry crumble and four flavors of gelato, respectively. Sometimes it’s good to give up a little control.

Ernie’s passion is all the more impressive given two things. First, unlike I who was raised in Los Angeles by affluent foodies, Ernie grew up in working-class Weehawken amidst wise guys and delis. Second, as the co-owner and manager of our busy local lumber yard, he doesn’t have the time I do to drive around to markets and tinker in the kitchen. Third (I know I said two things, but I thought of one more), he actually ran away with the circus as a young man — Ringling Brothers, to be specific. Why that matters I’m not sure, but it does.

Ernie's mussels

I’m glad Ernie lives so close — just a 3-minute walk down our back hill — because I like to have him around when I’m cooking. And I like to sit in his kitchen and watch when he’s cooking. We sip wine and talk, and time passes slowly in the best possible way. It’s our version of what I’m sure was a common sight of his childhood in 1960s New Jersey: a couple old guys sitting at a table out in front of a deli for hours, reflecting on their lives and world.

I guess in a way Ant Patty was right, he was doing it for me — and for everyone else there that night. Because Ernie as well as anyone, perhaps more than anyone, understands that in “doing it” for others, he is achieving one of the most noble of all missions: to serve. And that there may be no more satisfying reward than the contented countenance of a friend or loved one who has just had their first taste of something warm and delicious you have prepared for them on a chilly night.

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16 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Andy
    Feb 28, 2012 @ 00:43:20

    Very lovely, Dude! Just beautifully written.

    Reply

  2. Lisa Gaskin
    Feb 28, 2012 @ 03:20:40

    Cool…totally cool and YAY for you that you have such accessible and compatible friendships. You seemed to have placed yourself in a totally synchronistic environment. I envy the food…

    Reply

  3. Patricia Colvig
    Feb 28, 2012 @ 03:38:47

    I need to set the record straight…I sign my name “Ant” Patty not because I’m not a real aunt – I am a real aunt. I sign it “Ant” Patty because my dear Aunt Eileen sent me a leather-bound Webster Dictionary for my high school graduation. On the outside my name was inscribed in gold letters “Patricia Eileen Colvig” and on the inside, she lovingly wrote an inscription about embarking on the wondrous voyage of life and signed it “…with love, Ant Eileen”. I thought it was funny and ironic that my fun, smart and sweet aunt signed her name “Ant”…I thought it was worth carrying on the tradition and I’m therefore, Ant Patty.

    Reply

  4. Patricia Colvig
    Feb 29, 2012 @ 00:02:25

    You’re a cruel man, Sean Colgin. My Ant Eileen was the Auntie Mame in my life and I’m pretty darn sure that she was my real aunt because my Mom told me so…

    Reply

  5. glennis
    Feb 29, 2012 @ 02:01:32

    A nice post. And Patty’s Jack Waterman’s favorite “Ant”!

    Reply

  6. Minnie Demontreux
    Mar 01, 2012 @ 01:57:19

    Ernie,
    Next time you come to Weehawken, I’ll get the provisions and you can take over the ‘old kitchen’.

    Your sister,
    Minnie

    Reply

  7. Debra Demontreux
    Feb 04, 2013 @ 00:19:48

    Yay, great blog. Very well written !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!I Ernie made some great food the mussels were wonderful.
    From,
    Maya Demontreux

    Reply

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