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SOCAL STYLE / Entertaining

Slow Be It

Make Meals From Scratch? Season Them With Time? Now You're Cooking!

May 09, 1999|NANCY SPILLER | Nancy Spiller last wrote about ricciarelli cookies for the magazine

In his 1996 novel "Slowness," Milan Kundera argues that speed in our fast-paced modern world is a form of forgetting: "The degree of slowness is directly proportional to the intensity of memory; the degree of speed is directly proportional to the intensity of forgetting."

I have intense memories of growing up in suburban California surrounded by fast-food outlets. The main boulevard of my childhood town was lined with hamburger stands for as far as the eye could see. Just a half-hour from San Francisco, the Bay Area's gastronomic ground zero, we lived in the Snack Shack Capital of the world. These memories come, I'm sure, from the fact that we rarely got to dine at the countless walk-up windows and order-here-pick-up-there counters. Some of my first childhood cooking experiences were attempting to make French fries. I could never get them as good as downtown.

Slow food, as opposed to fast, was the stuff my mother made but couldn't get us to eat. According to family legend, her parents raised much of their own food, including chickens, in their Northern California backyard. We children found Mom's homemade noodles primitive and repugnant because we witnessed her rolling out the dough on a floured board and cutting them by hand. We rejected her from-scratch vegetable soup, which simmered for hours on the stove and infused the house with its tomato broth smell, because the carrots, celery, onions and green beans weren't cut into uniform chunks like Campbell's. We trusted and loved everything advertised on television because we believed it to be untouched by human hands. We worshiped Jell-O because the ingredients were virtually all artificial. To us, Tang was the primary perk of America having spent millions to send a man to the moon.

Since then, of course, my tastes have matured and improved, as have those of my native state and much of the nation. In the past 20 years, real food has taken root in this country to the benefit of all. Now there's even a Slow Food movement, founded in Italy in the late '80s to combat the McDonaldization of the world, and it's spreading throughout America, encouraging people to seek local ingredients prepared with an attention to detail and tradition. Slow Food International's symbol is the snail, and its official manifesto is available, ironically, from its Web site. It notes that "we are enslaved by speed" and encourages all to take "suitable doses of . . . slow, long-lasting enjoyment" to immunize against "the multitude who mistake frenzy for efficiency."

Although I've joined the group, registering with the Italian headquarters via e-mail, I admit that I still eat fast food. Maybe it's because I didn't get enough over-the-counter-burgers as a kid or, like most people, I often simply don't have the time to cook. Besides, fast food has gotten better. In fact, the lingering pleasure of one restaurant chain's fish tacos is now firmly embedded in my food memory bank.

But taking it slow brings other forms of gratification. And it doesn't necessarily have to be labor-intensive, especially if the main ingredient is time, as with marinades. Long marination yields superior results and gives the chef something to anticipate. What I like about the marinade here, spiced with juniper berries and port wine, is that it's not only slow, it's downright feral, giving a Cornish game hen the flavor of flame-grilled wildfowl. Now if I could only find a spare hour to hand-cut some noodles. Hurry up and bring on those slow times.

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MOCK GAME BIRDS

Adapted from "The Grilling Book: The Techniques, Tools and Tastes of the New American Grill" (Aris Books, 1985)

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Serves 4

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2 cups ruby port

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1/4 cup olive oil

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

2 teaspoons juniper berries

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns

1 small onion or 2 scallions, roughly chopped

3 garlic cloves, lightly crushed

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger

4 Rock Cornish hens, halved and back bones removed

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Combine port, vinegar and oil in large stainless-steel or glass bowl. Combine coriander, fennel, juniper berries, salt and peppercorns in mortar or spice grinder and grind coarsely. Add spices to bowl along with onion, garlic and ginger.

Flatten hens and marinate overnight, or up to 2 or 3 days, in refrigerator. Turn frequently to marinate evenly. Remove hens from refrigerator 1/2 hour before grilling. Grill over moderate fire, 8 to 10 minutes on skin side, and finish cooking on bone side, about 20 minutes total. When hens are pierced near joints with fork or skewer and juices run clear, they are done. (If using broiler, set temperature at 450 degrees and place hens a few inches from flame. Broil 8 to 10 minutes on skin side, then on bone side, about 20 minutes total.)

Note: Marinade may also be used on pork for wild boar flavor and on lamb for venison flavor. Recipe makes 3 cups, enough for 4 game birds, 2 fryers, a pork or lamb shoulder or 4 to 5 pounds of pork or lamb chops.

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Food stylist: Christine Anthony-Masterson

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