Marx Brothers or The Three Stooges?
This question comes to mind as I listen to Kathy practice her Three Stooges routine in the living room.
“Whoop, whoop, whoop.”
Kathy does a perfect Curly. She scoots across the dining room.
“Nyuck, nyuck , nyuck.”
She sidles up to me and pretends to jab me in the eyes. She raps me on the forehead with her knuckles then steps back and does a goofy hand jive, snapping her fingers and gyrating wildly. It ends with her slapping at her forehead with both hands, like she is trying to wipe away a thick slick of salad oil.
Me, I prefer the Marx Brothers. Groucho. I like the wit, the smart-ass intelligence. While I tuned in to the Stooges for short period of time — in seventh grade, when I would rush home to watch their show on TV — they didn’t have the staying power as far as I was concerned. Not even Moe, with his pre-Beatles Beatles’ hairdo. You can watch guys get clobbered with a steel pipe only so many times before the action gets stale.
How about you?
Stooges or the Marx Brothers.
(My apologies here to younger readers — if I have any — who might not be well acquainted with these two great, Vaudeville, film and television acts.)
“I think I should start a Three Stooges Club.” Kathy moves her head around like someone is bashing her in the skull with a shovel. “Narf, narf, narf.”
“What would you do?”
“Well, we could rent a bunch of Three Stooges movies from Netflix and watch them — maybe watch each of them twice. We would have snacks, of course — some really sloppy things that we could throw at each other. Then, we could entertain each other with our Three Stooges imitations. You know, like, ‘Nyuck, nyuck, nyuck.’”
“Hmmm. And who would join your club?”
“Well, Jack, for one. He does a great Curly imitation, too. We’d have a fantastic time. Wanna join? You haven’t had a haircut since your surgery — what is that, five weeks now? So, you could play Larry; though, to tell the truth, you look more like the Unabomber. You’ve got that Kacynski look, that loner-in-a-plywood-hovel-in-the-woods look. But, if you join the club, you can be Larry.”
“No, I’m a Groucho fan.”
“Elitist snob. Narf, narf, narf.” She slaps me on the back of my head, does the finger-poppin’ hand jive, and leaves the room.
Curly II gets me thinking: What kind of sloppy mess would I make for the first meeting of the Pagosa Springs Three Stooges Club? What could I whip up that would be simultaneously delicious and a worthy weapon in a food fight?
I compile a list of options. I don’t even bother to consider a cream pie. Too cliché.
I certainly wouldn’t want anything overly soupy. I wouldn’t hurl anything with hunks of meat in it.
No, the perfect Stooge toss requires the right mix of substance (nothing hard or sharp, starchy is good) and gooeyness.
And, it must be palatable — something I would enjoy at dinner prior to the club meeting.
I come up with four decent finalists: mac and cheese, refried beans, rice pudding and polenta.
Mac and cheese?
Naw, too good to waste. Especially the way I make it: baked, four cheeses minimum, often with a béchamel, fresh breadcrumbs. Pearls before swine.
Possible, though lacking minimal aesthetic qualities. Dried pintos, soaked overnight, cooked four hours or so, mashed, mixed with sautéed onion and garlic, oregano, cumin, salt, pepper. Then, fried in lard. Yes, kids, lard. No lard, no go; the pig is essential. But, as far as being broadcast headwise at a club meeting … I can’t get past the brown of it all.
Rice pudding? Ahhh. Nothing beats a bowl of rice pudding for a late-night treat (or a morning, afternoon, anytime treat). And it has great possibilities as a weapon. Make your own, with leftover basmati; it’ll do just fine. I’d opt for commercial pudding, if it weren’t for my bruised feelings. Many years ago I found a fantastic commercial substitute for homemade pudding but, since the company failed to send me the requested 50-gallon drum of pudding as a token of appreciation for my writing a column about their product, I vowed that, from that point on, I would never mention Kozy Shack pudding. And I surely won’t throw it at a fake stooge.
So, it’s gotta be polenta.
Polenta has been the rage among foodies for about a decade now. Absent the high-falootin’ euro-precious Italian name, what we are dealing with here is basically good-old American cornmeal mush. Great stuff: eat it warm and loose; cool it, cut it into squares, diamonds, etc. and sauté it; bake it. A classic carrier, slathered with just about anything, from a simple brown butter with sage, to an elaborate ragu.
The only rule: You have to use either a “polenta” corn meal or a fairly coarse ground corn meal — the fine stuff won’t work. Water or stock, with a touch of salt, is brought to a boil. The corn meal is introduced slowly, whisked all the while. The heat is turned down to a simmer. The mix is whisked regularly until the polenta begins to pull away from the side of the pan. Then, season and — my fave — add cheese, preferably a grated melter, like Asiago, maybe some sautéed mushrooms.
Do not waste the Asiago on the Stooges. And let the polenta sit long enough to cool; we don’t want to deal with burned Stooges.
But definitely put cheese (and maybe crispy pancetta or chorizo, and chopped green chile) in the polenta you intend to eat before entering the fray. It’s true that the chile is going to do wreak some serious havoc on the Stooges’ eyes, but they deserve it.
I am going to make a batch soon, for me. I’ll spread the cooked polenta in an oiled rectangular cake pan, in a layer about an inch and a half deep. I’ll smooth the top of the polenta, let it cool, then put the covered pan in the fridge until the next day. I’ll cut the polenta into squares and sauté them until crispy and golden brown in a mix of butter and olive oil. I’ll lay a blanket of shaved Parmesan on top of the polenta squares, give them a couple minutes under the broiler, then serve them with grilled, hot Italian sausages and fried onions and peppers.
A smart way to treat a simple staple.
Narf, narf, narf.