Off The Road and On The Table
After meeting Jami Cassady (my future wife) I was
invited to go to the Cassady house in 1972 and
couldn’t help wondering.....will they be Beatniks or
When I walked through the door, the lights were low
and Miles Davis ("Sketches of Spain") was on the
stereo. I could hear animated conversations coming
from the back of the house. It turned out that the
Bancroft Avenue house in Monte Sereno was a
gathering place for many; famous, not so famous, friends and hangers-on.
As I settled in over the next few months, I realized the Cassady’s were not much different than my family. I was raised in California’s Central Valley by a school teacher father and housewife mother and I had a younger sister. We were pretty typical middle class. As the years went by, my notions of the Cassady family changed. I learned that most of the information about Neal was myth (a lot based on true stories, tho.) and that Cathy, Jami and John just knew Neal as "dad".
Many years later, after a great Christmas dinner where family and friend’s remembrances were recalled, I came up with the idea to do a cookbook, based on the memories people had of their stories of meals spent with members of the Cassady family. Jami and I spent years contacting relatives and friends to ask them to contribute. Since the original recipes don’t exist anymore or were just "off the cuff" anyway, I tried to re-create and update them. We are going to try to publish this cookbook and would love it if anyone has their own personal stories of food events with any of the Cassady Clan. Also, please try the recipes and see if they work. Criticisms at this point are a very good thing!
Let’s have a toast!
Good Friends - Good Food - Good Conversation!
P.S. keep an eye on the web site, we will be introducing new stories and recipes and would love your feedback.P.P.S. Jami here......Randy is a chef... so this project is a lot of fun for him...and the family!
OFF THE ROAD AND ON THE TABLE
Notes By Carolyn Cassady
If I begin from when I first started living with Neal in San Francisco, I have to say that as to most meals I draw a blank. I can only assume that I continued the traditional meals I had growing up. "Meat and two vegs" plus a salad. Working all day, as you know, is not conductive to meals that take a lot of preparation beforehand, like pasta or stews or those sauces, etc., although I enjoyed making some of these later when I had an older family.
The most astonishing thing to me, however, is that I have no memory whatsoever of where I did my grocery shopping! We lived first on 54th avenue in the Richmond Distict, and Geary Blvd was the nearest street with shops, but I retain no image of a market. When in the summer Neal was held on a railroad hold-down in Southern California and could neither come home nor send a pay check, I lived on peanut butter and lettuce for several weeks, but I wouldn’t recommend it as a steady diet.
The next home atop Alpine Terrace is little more revealing in specifics. It must have been a small market either on Divisadero or Market Streets before I gave birth to Cathy, and after Neal left on his first road trip, Ardo* did all the shopping for me from a list. Now largely baby needs.Again, on Liberty Street, just off Dolores off Market, I can’t even visualize a grocery store. I guess I had other things more on my mind, and being alone, canned goods may have come to the fore for me.When we moved to 29 Russell Street, however, I clearly remember the little shop at the corner of Hyde and Union just up the hill. Here is where Helen Hinkle used to discreetly stuff the inside and outside pockets of her huge enveloping coat with stolen goods. Boy, did that make me nervous; I couldn’t do it.
The theory all of them had was that these companies, large or family-run, have to throw away so much, they’d never miss it. Lucky for us they didn’t.I could be somewhat more creative in a real home, that is when Neal was at home and when Kerouac lived with us. I began to make things like spaghetti, made with Italian dried mushrooms. To me it is still the best spaghetti to my taste. The same sauce, minus the Italian mushrooms, was used to make the pizza that Kerouac wrote about enjoying so much. It wasn’t conventional pizza at all, although I suppose readers think of it as such.When the three children had grow enough to eat adult food, the old traditions were still in place. My father had been a bio chemist and good nutrition was always on our table. Again, on Russell Street meals were simple and quickly prepared. As in all families, the children had their pet peeves as to vegetables, such as Brussel sprouts or baby limas. I insisted that they must eat at least one, but contrary to my upbringing, they needn’t eat all presented to them.
Otherwise, a clean plate was required. I am happy to say that now they all enjoy all sorts of food and are willing to try unfamiliar ones. In my own"clean the plate " childhood there was only one dish that gagged me: creamed codfish on mashed potatoes. How I panicked when I saw that little wooden box in the kitchen that contained the nasty codfish. I sat at the table long after the rest of the family were by the fire reading or playing games or the piano. If it weren’t for our kindly housekeeper, Penner, who would take large mouthfuls off my plate as she cleared the table, I’d be sitting there still. Now I’m free of that curse, how wonderful it is that there are so many different concoctions of food available around the globe for us to ENJOY!
*Ardo: the young brakeman Neal got to bring Carolyn groceries and take the laundry
The Dreaded Chicken Livers
By John Allen Cassady
As a rule, I’ll eat anything that doesn’t run or swim too fast for me to tackle. However, in the case of liver, living or dead, animal, vegetable or mineral, with or without fava beans and a nice Chianti, all bets are off. In fact, I find the organ particularly gruesome, dense, too rich, gamy, coarse, smelly, bloody and disgusting. Any questions so far? ( How do you REALLY feel about liver?)Some misguided souls like it, even crave it, including my dear mother, bless her carnivorous heart. I have no doubt it "is so good for you." What with all that iron (and foul-tasting tissue), it’s like getting a virtual blood transplant. Just think if Keith Richard had started over as a teen, instead of everything else, he could still audition for ‘NSYNC!My mother’s favorite liver was that of a chicken. In fact, she was known to wrestle bystanders 2 out of 3 falls for the liver that emerged from the whole fryer when it came out of the oven.
But that small portion wasn’t enough. She would actually buy chicken livers by the pound in a bag at the supermarket. No chickens, just their livers. I have to assume that their other parts found homes on better dinner tables everywhere, and much to the delight of their diners. She would then fry the livers with another food I found disgusting as a child, mushrooms. Why not throw in some raw onions to complete the dish from Hell? I think she did.This simmering combination of gross ingredients gave off a distinctive odor. So distinctive, in fact, that I could detect it before even entering the house, usually on my way home from a friend’s houses after school. Us kids knew to show up around 6:00 PM or risk going hungry. I would catch a whiff of the dreaded fried chicken livers and mushrooms at the front door, stick my head inside and immediately announce that I was eating back at the last friend’s house, then make a break for it. I can’t recall if I would actually go back to the kid’s house and invite myself for dinner, or just wander about the neighborhood dejectedly.Sometimes this trick didn’t work and I was forced to attend the family dinner table.
I would then have to employ more devious tactics before I could eventually be excused from the table. The parents were big on dinner etiquette, much to their credit, but it made for some long mealtime stand-offs.We ate dinner for a time around a low, slate table in the living room, which we must have thought quite hip for the 50's. I would spirit a pile of paper napkins from the kitchen to my lap under the table at some point, and when the assembled family wasn’t looking, I’d wrap a napkin around a few forkfuls of "food" and toss it into the fireplace, where it would land with a thud and an incriminating cloud of ashes. This could usually still take care of the majority of the pile on my plate and allow for an early escape.When that trick no longer worked (busted!), I would resort to stuffing the concoction under the rim of my plate, ask to be excused, and hightail it out the front door before my mom cleared the table.
I think that ploy only worked once. My last resort was that of trying to reason with my Mom, and she being the reasonable person that she is, eventually gave in and stopped the torture. Either that or I grew old enough just to stay away more often when the menu was learned in advance, and Mom was then able to enjoy one of her favorites in peace. I’ve since learned to like mushrooms and onions. In fact, I could live on those fried up in oil with the other parts of chicken involved, but I never got over my aversion to liver. Mom would say "but you eat liverwurst sandwiches" Maybe so, but they don’t make you yell "ahhhh, run for your lives" I smell fried chicken livers!"
Fried Chicken Livers
By Carolyn Cassady
Updated by Randy Ratto
1 lb fresh chicken livers
-1/2 cup all purpose flour + 1tbsp**
-olive oil as needed
-1 tbsp butter
-1/4 cup chicken stock or low sodium chicken broth
-1/4 cup dry white wine**
-1/2 medium yellow onion sliced and quartered
-1/4 lb pancetta diced**
-1/2 cup mushrooms sliced
-salt and pepper to taste
Season the ½ cup of flour with salt and pepper. Dredge chicken livers in the flour. Heat a cast iron frying pan over medium high heat. Add 2 to 3 tbsp’s of oil. Put livers in pan and cook for 3 mins on each side. Do not crowd the livers. Cook in small batches until all livers have been browned. Remove livers and set aside. Add pancetta to the pan. Adding more oil if necessary. Cook pancetta till slightly crisp and browned. Remove pancetta from pan and add to livers. Add onions saute until clear. Add white wine reduce till almost gone. Add tbsp of butter and mushrooms fry until they are soft and juices are released. Add 1tbsp of flour cook for 2 to 3 mins. When butter starts to bubble add chicken stock lower the heat and cook for another 5 minutes, until slightly thickened. Pour sauce over livers and serve.
Santa Cruz Film Festival Opening Night May 9, 2008
"One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur"
On May 9th the world premier of a documentary done by Tango Pix/kerouacfilms was shown at the majestic and refurbished Del Mar Theater in Santa Cruz, Calif. Jami and her brother John were invited as guests by the Santa Cruz Film Festival’s artistic director and super-woman, Jane Sullivan, as they (along with their mother, Carolyn Cassady and many other famous poets, actors and musicians) were featured in the movie. The director, Curt Worden, and the producer, Gloria Balin, had come out from their company’s headquarters in Rhode Island to be a part of the festivities. The theater was packed and Jami and John felt blessed to be called up after the movie to be introduced with Curt and Gloria to say a few words.
Afterwards there was a party at The Museum of Art and History. Then, the after AFTER party! That was amazing! It took place in an Art Deco home among the many Victorian houses on Beach Hill in Santa Cruz. There were many fascinating people there. Among them, two men who had done a pilgrimage to San Miguel de Allende for Neal and also, our good friend, Janet Clyde, one of the partners at Vesuvio Café in San Francisco. We look forward to the 8th Annual Santa Cruz Film Festival next year. Please visit: SantaCruzFilFestival.com