So there we were, a few friends gathered at an after-funeral reception bemoaning the sad reality that at our ages we rarely get invited to weddings. We noted a few other things that have slipped away from our grasps and suddenly remembered that we no longer have either the stamina or the urge to enjoy a three-Martini lunch.
That classic approach to a noontime repast—described as both leisurely and indulgent—was popular throughout the Sixties and into the Seventies, when President Jimmy Carter campaigned against it in his first bid for the Presidency as being a benefit to the rich being paid by the working class.
His opponent, Gerald Ford, in a 1978 speech to the National Restaurant Association, responded with: “The three-martini lunch is the epitome of American efficiency. Where else can you get an earful, a bellyful and a snootful at the same time?”
Although I appreciate the austerity brought to the office by Carter, I have also enjoyed many a three-Martini lunch, with the gin being replaced by Scotch. And that was when I had no opportunity to declare my noon meals as a tax deduction. Big business could, but by 1987, that deduction was reduced to 80 percent; seven years later to 50 percent.
When I first moved to Los Angeles in 1976, I called an old friend who invited me to lunch at a well-known restaurant near Westwood. Assuming it would be a drinking occasion, I ordered the same beverage as my host and his other guest. It was something called Perrier, an imported sparkling water from France. I had never heard of it and, of course, rued the fact that I didn’t order at least something like a Campari and soda—the perfect hot-weather beverage.
Oddly enough, water does not float my boat.
Lunch is my favorite meal of the day. Breakfast seems too difficult a task to perform at 7:30, and dinner, with its traditional focus as our main meal seems leaden. Agrarian societies ate lunch (dinner) as their main meal. With two or three courses, it was frequently followed by a short nap that reënergized farm workers to finish the day. In the late evening, a supper of simple sandwiches, salads and fruit would satisfy most appetites.
The Industrial Revolution, as it were, gave way to short break periods to factory workers who brought sandwiches from home or bought street food from vendors with pushcarts laden with gray-water hot dogs, Po’ boys, or Italian beef sandwiches—depending on one’s location. Time was limited and the lunch food of the time was consumed in mere minutes. The executives, of course, went out to lunch (Carter was right in his assessment) and wined and dined at their employees’ expense.
While I like to go out to lunch, I’ve become accustomed to not doing so for the past 18 months or so. And being of a certain age, I don’t eat as much as I once was able. What I seek is a variety of flavors that may weigh-in at around 5-6 ounces per meal.
In Hollywood, I used to have lunch frequently at The Musso & Frank Grill. Typically I had their signature steak salad. I also frequented a Japanese restaurant or Boardner’s, a dive-bar off Hollywood Boulevard where the food was barely edible but the chances of having a cocktail with the poet Charles Bukowski were pretty good.
Two of the most memorable lunches I’ve ever had were in Europe. At bar across from the Dublin rail station, I once had a ham sandwich—thinly sliced ham on white bread with Colman’s mustard—and a glass of Smithwick red ale. It was to die for, and I’ve never satisfactorily reproduced the meal. The next came twenty years later in London when I had my first ploughman’s lunch. Originally a meal of bread and cheese to carry to the field, it has evolved into a pub food that is delicious and fits perfectly my idea of an ideal lunch.
It typically is served on a board or platter with cheese (Stilton and a good English cheddar), a small salad of tomatoes and cucumber, some chunks of sausage or ham, perhaps a small meat pie, bread, butter, sliced onions, and pickles.
Its French cousin is charcuterie, a word originally meant to describe a meal of prepared meats—sausages, pates, et cetera.
My lunch obsession is a happy combination of the two. I always have on hand some salami, smoked ham, or creamed herring. To that I add any number of olives, some gherkins or cornichons, some Brie cheese with grapes and fig marmalade, or Camembert. Other cheeses are welcome, as is prosciutto or mortadella (my favorite). There should always be bread—slices of toasted baguette or seeded rye to play host to chicken liver pate or Braunschweiger, topped with spicy Dijon mustard and sliced onions.
Sometimes a little potato or pasta salad works nicely, as do sliced tomatoes with cottage cheese, heavily sprinkled with pepper. If there’s leftover chicken, I like to eat a small portion with some boiled potatoes and carrots, topped with a mustard vinaigrette. Once a month or so, I like a small baked potato with sour cream and chives. And I love hard-cooked eggs with any or all of the above.
Today is Father’s Day—a Hallmark made-up holiday—but I will nonetheless want to dine on some sausage, cheese, and potato pie. I might even make myself a Martini, or three.
Photography by Courtney A. Liska
Cervelle de canut
This is a cheese specialty from Lyon, France—made of cottage cheese mixed with creme fraiche and fresh herbs, garlic, and shallots. To finish it, it’s seasoned with salt, pepper, walnut oil and vinegar. It is usually served as a snack on fresh or toasted bread, it’s a perfect summer appetizer.
200 grams of cottage cheese
50 grams of fresh goat’s cheese
100 ml of creme fraiche
2 tsp. of finely chopped shallots
2 garlic cloves finely minced
2 tsp. of chopped parsley
2 Tbs. of finely chopped chives
1 small fresh onion, finely chopped
2 Tbs. of walnut oil
1 Tbs. of red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste.
Start by adding the drained cottage cheese into a large bowl and whisking it well.
Add the goat cheese and mix well. Add the creme fraiche and whip again.
Season with the salt and pepper, add the vinegar and mix well.
Add all of the herbs, garlic, onions, and shallot. Use a wooden spoon to blend.