"Roman Candle" turns 20: Secrets of Elliott Smith's accidental masterpiece (slideshow)
Elliott and the friends with whom he recorded in middle school in Texas (photo courtesy of Dan Pickering)
We asked members of our Kitchen Cabinet to briefly share some of their holiday memories with us, and we’re sharing them with you all this week. Today we’re celebrating with fabulous foods, be they wholesomely found or more ill-gotten.
From Clark Wolf, food and restaurant consultant:
It was the indulgent start to an excessive decade: 1980, and who knew that wild arugula and padded shoulders were just round the corner? So nice that only one of those endured.
We were working to open a new outpost of the legendary Oakville Grocery, and a small group of us gathered in a Napa Valley farmhouse to rob the very larder we were stocking.
I’d arranged for geese to be raised for us nearby, secured major quantities of Italian white truffles, and gathered quail eggs and a slab of illegally imported foie gras large enough to clog international arteries.
We rendered the duck, gathering and straining the fat so we could pan fry sourdough crostini, scramble the quail eggs (kept overnight in a jar with the truffles to absorb their aroma) to go on top, then gilded that lily with a slash of foie gras and generous scrapings of more white truffle.
We were well into our third or fourth or fifth bottle of Champagne when Rick slipped and dropped the pan, sending the goose flying across Joe’s pristine show kitchen, only to be returned to the oven, forgotten in the haze and profoundly overcooked. We abandoned it. It was all of course far too much, but it felt just right.
I do remember a salad and a delicious, pedestrian poached egg the next noon, but that’s another story.
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From Greg Higgins, Chef-owner, Higgins Restaurant and Bar:
No offense to the founder of Festivus or any other feast days, but the winter solstice is primordial, predating all organized religion. It’s also the normal peak of truffle season along the 45th parallel.
There are many food memories brought on by the abbreviated days around the winter solstice, but I’m most moved by the scent of dank earth, the kind coming from a freshly dug Oregon black truffle. These things are precious, and the hunt for them is shrouded in a mystery that feels appropriate for the misty, dreary days of the Northwest winter.
There are secrets and pacts, and my band of rogue foragers never talks about the whereabouts of our forays. We take our experience and intuition and a bit of luck with us into these eternal forests, and we dig under thick moss and broad ferns. Occasionally, we get a waft of their unmistakable perfume, hovering elusively in the wet air. We gently rake back the duff of conifers and leaves, finding black nuggets encrusted in forest clay. The hunt continues until we’re content to return, chilled to the bone but charged by the aroma in our gunny sacks — spices, rich earth and exotic fruits.
Back in the kitchen, we spray away the tenacious clay to reveal the velvety black trophies. Preparing a simple risotto, it’s easy to forget the numbing cold and our sore knees and backs from the day’s adventure. Some fresh chevre, a leek or two pulled from the kitchen garden, a bit of patient stirring and all that remains is the celebration at the table with fellow foragers and an ample supply of dark and pungent pinot noir nurtured in that same red clay.
We, like many other mycophages, celebrate this auspicious day rather than some of the more religious or spiritual holidays, celebrating the return of the light.
Clark Wolf is founder and president of Clark Wolf Company, a New York-based food and restaurant consulting firm.More Clark Wolf.
Higgins turns out fine cuisine in support of his premise that food is community - an idea that creates respect, commitment and responsibility from farmer to chef to diner. “We're interested in nourishing and sustaining not only our customer's appetites but also the land and the quality of life we all enjoy,” says Higgins. With an agricultural region that provides unparalleled abundance and diversity - from wild salmon, mushrooms, and huckleberries to some of the finest wines in the country, Higgins is defining a cuisine that is truly rooted in the northwest.More Greg Higgins.
Heatmiser publicity shot (L-R: Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson, Neil Gust, Elliott Smith) (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott and JJ Gonson (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
"Stray" 7-inch, Cavity Search Records (photo courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott's Hampshire College ID photo, 1987
Elliott with "Le Domino," the guitar he used on "Roman Candle" (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Full "Roman Candle" record cover (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Elliott goofing off in Portland (courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
Heatmiser (L-R: Elliott Smith, Neil Gust, Tony Lash, Brandt Peterson)(courtesy of JJ Gonson photography)
The Greenhouse Sleeve -- Cassette sleeve from Murder of Crows release, 1988, with first appearance of Condor Avenue (photo courtesy of Glynnis Fawkes)