For years I have had a single joke in my culinary repertoire. Whenever I teach a cooking class and find myself busily whipping cream or egg whites by hand, I always wink confidentially at my students. Without missing a stroke of the balloon whisk against the metal bowl, I inform them that while they are certainly free to avail themselves of rotary beaters--or any of the myriad electric devices on the market--to execute this step in the recipe, I resolutely will not.
"Because. . . ," I state righteously, "this is the only exercise I get."
My comment always gets a nice laugh. But as of the summer of 1985 it has become passe. After about half a century of little or no physical activity whatsoever--unless you count bending in the garden to check out budding tomatoes and peas--I have taken a drastic leap onto a brand-new (and somewhat terrifying) bicycle.
Why? To bring a little vigor to my waning circulatory system and to effect a change of venue from the stove top to the open road.
Traveling Amagansett Roads
However, I must say that my biking activities are strictly rustic at the moment. And the wheels I spin are solidly fixed on Amagansett roads at the far eastern end of Long Island, where the summer population this season is relatively low.
Not that country roads are free of hazard--particularly for an oversize neophyte at the pedals like me. Automobiles are not the problem. Even those moving at a rapid clip, I have discovered, are able to be avoided by close proximity to the shoulder of a thoroughfare; but potholes and stray dogs are not so easily bypassed.
Worst of all are the joggers and marathon runners, each of whom apparently holds the road's edge to be his sovereign dominion and will fearlessly tolerate mild bloodletting rather than break stride.
My most precipitous near-collision was entirely non-athletic, however. It occurred at twilight on a totally untraveled byway when I almost split a strolling couple who both observed me approaching but adamantly refused to unlock hands.
Squirrels, rabbits, robins and even mallard ducks have more sense on the road, and I have become their public defender since the outset of my daily ride. Aside from exercise, my bicycle is a great vehicle for observing the world, but not as far removed from the kitchen as you would think.
A Gathering of Road Food
A few days ago I came back with the makings of a salad from the greenstuffs sprouting along the road. And a wicker basket perched above my knees always carries enough rations to qualify as bona fide road food.
Here is a sampling from a recent mini-picnic. One of my favorite snacks, on or off a bike, is a ham pate. This spread makes a fast lunch with a small loaf of crispy bread or a package of crackers. I pack mine in a screw-top jar and keep it refrigerated until I hit the road. It thaws as I pedal.
DEVILISH GOOD HAM PATE
1/2 pound cooked ham, finely chopped
1 canned jalapeno chile, finely chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Combine ham, jalapeno chile, butter and mustard in bowl and mash into paste with heavy wooden spoon or in food processor. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pack mixture into sterilized airtight jar. Refrigerate. Makes about 1 pint.
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On the road, a shrimp salad should always be packed in a pre-chilled, wide-mouth vacuum jar to keep it at maximum freshness. I take along nothing but a fork and napkin, but that's all I can fit in my bike basket.
BASIL-FLECKED SHRIMP AND
BLACK OLIVE SALAD
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup clam juice
1 sprig parsley
3 celery tops with leaves
1 small onion stuck with 1 clove
1 small bay leaf
1 pound large shrimp
1 clove garlic, bruised
2 stalks celery, minced
1 stalk fennel, minced
1 shallot, minced
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/4 cup small pitted black olives plus 2 or 3 extra for garnish
1/4 cup chopped basil
1/2 cup Vinaigrette Sauce
1 lime, thinly sliced
Combine wine, clam juice, lemon, parsley, celery tops, onion and bay leaf in large saucepan. Heat to boiling. Add shrimp and boil until shrimp turn pink, about 3 to 4 minutes. Do not overcook. Remove shrimp with slotted spoon. Allow to cool. Shell and devein. Do not remove tails.
Rub large bowl with garlic, then discard garlic. Combine minced celery, fennel, shallot and lime juice in bowl. Toss well. Add shrimp, 1/4 cup olives and basil.
Pour enough Vinaigrette Sauce over shrimp mixture to moisten and let stand 1 hour. Toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with lime slices and remaining olives. Makes 3 to 4 servings.
1 clove garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup vegetable or olive oil
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Place garlic and salt in small bowl. Mash with back of spoon until mixture forms paste. Stir in mustard and lemon juice. Whisk in oil, vinegar and pepper.