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A cook's lament

This will be my final consumer critique of 2013. Graham Crackers! The Christmas pie is Cognac Pie in a graham cracker crust. Amazingly delicious.

What a hassle to find a box of PLAIN graham crackers. Plain they must be, no cinammon, no honey, no tutti fruitti! Made by Nabisco, they come in a red box. They have been available--well, for centuries, at least two. Desperate, I finally found two boxes hidden behind soda crackers at D'Agostinos.

What's the problem? Sold out? Not stocked? Woe!

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.



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The honey ones do work in a pinch, although I agree, they're not as good as the plain version.

You should have ordered them online and UPS guaranteed that you would have them by Christmas.

Do you not live in NYC? How is it that you are not able to find things like graham crackers, candy canes, and pot holders?



You are far to rigorist in this regard! The cinnamon graham crackers seems like a good way to go. Might add a nice flavour to the crust.

Abe: I do live in NYC. There are five "markets" of serious dimensions and intentions within 5 blocks (including a Whole Foods). Only one (Dagostinos) had the two boxes I scrounged for. I am thinking on-line food ordering is cutting into stores that stock their shelves, and they are now only stocking their most wildly popular items. Did I mention the cake flour problem?

Crumb crust: I could not possibly use honey or cinammon graham crackers for Cognac pie: cinammon would detract from the Cognac; and honey would make the crust too sweet. What you want is a calm background flavor and crispy/slightly crumbly background texture for the smooth cream (whipped) and the divine cognac. Cream, Cognac and egg yolks readily available. Maybe next year the crust will be no more.

The candy canes and hot pads were ordered from Amazon and came in plenty of time thanks to pony express.

Is it a Manhattan problem, or are American market chains in cities generally not carrying such basic stuff these days?

What do I know? It is a West Side Manhattan problem. What does the rest of America have to say?

Margaret, Nabisco has their original graham crackers, minus honey, out on grocery shelves once again.  They are labled Original.  I know, genius.  My daughter's boyfriend is a vegan and does not eat honey.  I have been in the world for many decades but was unaware that vegans will not eat anything containing honey.  Something about exploiting the bees.  And here I always thought that honey was the bees gift to the world.  None of my business, of course, but vegans are the true food  ascetics.  could easily give up honey - but cheese - never. 

My local supermarket, like most of them in New Orleans, used to sell a good variety of alcoholic beverages.  Christmas Eve I couldn't find any sherry on the shelves, so I asked a kid stocking the shelves where it was.  He assured me he had never even HEARD of sherry.  So I aked at the counter, and an older guy said, "Oh, yes, we have some nice ones", whereupon he led me to a few bottles of Taylor's @ $6. per bottle.  I'm afraid I was rude and automatically scoffed.  (I"d sooner drink pee.)  Last week they also didn't have any Cointreau, which also used to be popular here.  And Noilly Prat vermouth seems to have deserted the area except for one specialty store.  Sigh. 

What I miss the most is Meaux mustard.  It's been gone from here for years.  Hey, I just Googled the Meaux and Amazon among others sells it now :-)  You also can't buy some old cuts of meat any  more, like yearling shoulder, unless you order them specially.  

The great old New Orleans home cooking is obviouly on the wane. But it's not surprising -- Americans are money rich and time poor, so young people have hardly any time for good cooking anymore, so they don't become experts.  And the grocery shelves reflect that.

See Abe! New Orleans too. Maybe it's cities that start with "New".

One of the advantages of NEW York, however, is that grocery stores can't sell liquor or wine; so the liquor stores carry a wide variety of everything, from Taylor's Sherry on up. Anne O: Can we send some relief supplies?

Well thank god, in Nouvelle-France you can at least buy sherry!

Uh... Nouvelle-France except for Louisiana, I guess!

Thanks for the offer of relief supplies, Ms. S., but I got my old friend something else, and now I can get the Meaux by mail :-)

But it really makes me sad that really good home cooking is being lost even in places like New York and New Orleans.  What must it be in De Moines? All oatmeal all day?  We can do a lot better than this, but how?  (By the way, the selection in clothes has also gotten extremely limited since I was young.)

Maybe Mark can tell us how our  supposedly great market system can make a great variety of products available again.

Margaret - if all else fails, it looks pretty easy to make your own graham crackers.  I'd think that if you omit the honey from this recipe, it would still work out.  Of course, you do need to be able to find graham flour.  I know that used to be in the grocery store 30 years ago, not sure now.

Margaret- Just  go to the outer boroughs to normal supermarkets like Stop n Shop or Pathmark for all of this stuff. (Or the dollar stores, where you get the odd lot potholders).  

And of course, there's always Target. But if you go there, be sure to pay cash.

Irene B, thank you for the suggestion, but: Hmmm. Well.

A number one rule: if I can't walk to grocery shop, I don't need it!

A number two rule if you can't get there on the Number one train, you don't need to the only outer borough I could get to would be Riverdale. Doesn't seem a likely place to grocery shop. Is it?

Ha. well, Margaret, the 1 would take you to Target at 225th & Broadway or the Stop N Shop at around 236 and Broadway. With lots of dollar stores around, too.   But you could probably also just drive to another city in the time it takes you to get up to the Bronx on the 1.  

Delivery by Pea Pod, maybe? Won't help with the last minute shopping needs, but they do have plain graham crackers and candy canes, just no pot holders.


Dr. Steinfels --

Riverdale is no "outer borough" -- it is merely a neighborhood within an outer borough.

Riverdalians try to distance themselves from the rest of us peons in the Bronx with silly affectations like return addresses on envelopes reading "Riverdale, NY".  The USPS should refuse to deliver any item so addressed.

The neighborhood that the 1 train serves and Irene describes with Stop & Shop and Target is not Riverdale -- it is Kingsbridge.  If one were to grocery shop in Kingsbridge, I also endorse Garden Gourmet, just across Broadway from the Stop & Shop.

Kingsbridge, in particular Broadway between 230th and 238th streets will be over run in the next year or so with two new malls already in construction.  Rumors are that many NYC island dwellers from your neighborhood will be regularly trekking up this way for one new store being built on the site of the old Stella D'Oro factory (oh, how I miss the lovely smells that wafted through my windows  from that factory).

It will be one of these:    From what I've been told you'll be able to buy a package of graham crackers large enough to last 5 years.  Not sure how you will get it through the subway turnstile though.

Thanks to all for the good advice and compassionate understanding.... Could we all meet at Broadway and ?? 225/236 ?? for coffee and graham crackers?

Not sure I can go into a Target (cash requirement notwithstanding). Aren't they like Walmart, etc.??

Mr. Marth, Though I am a fount of medical advice (e.g., don't get a knee replacement), I am not a DR, not even a DR of communication or home economics.

Per the online bio at Fordham,  Margaret O'Brien Steinfels has at least 7 doctorates honoris causa.  7 suggests the academia is pretty much in agreement.

Honoris isn't realis!

Hey, 7 is more than half what Bill Cosby has: don't knock it!

Does an honorary docotrate give you any kind of privileges at the university that awards it?  Free use of the fitness center or the library?

I live in a town of less than 2,000 people in the Midwest, and I feel I'm really missing out on some entrepreneurial opportunities here. Cloth potholders in a variety of designs, secular and profane, regular graham crackers, and standard red-and-white candy canes all available within walking distance of my house. I can also get plain white pipe cleaners (that local geezers actually buy to clean actual pipes), wooden peg clothespins, and kitchen matches with the strike-on-box strips. Down at the gas station, Bicycle playing cards with rules for four-handed euchre are available. I can also get some popcorn that actually tastes like something more than cardboard down at the feed store.

New Yorkers: Tell me what you can't get, and I will set up an Etsy page and retail this stuff to you at exhorbitant prices. You're used to that, no?

Dr. Steinfels wrote:

Honoris isn't realis!

Oh my, surely you are mistaken.  Honor is real, just like Nabisco Grahams Original are real.  Perhaps honor, like Original Grahams,  is just  hard to find on the Upper West Side?

While I have not read any of the citations granting your degrees, I am sure there were words such as these:

"By virtue of the authority vested in me by the Board of Trustees, I confer upon you the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters honoris causa, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto"

If "all the rights and privileges" does not include the occasional Dr. before your name, then the words have no meaning.

JHR: Exorbitant prices! How about this, $4.99 for a six ounce package of organic, fresh cranberries? The manager even agreed it was outrageous. Did not buy. Hope there will be a fresh supply of non-organic, polluted cranberries with Monday deliveries.

IB: Honorary degrees. My experience is that there are no privileges, library or otherwise, that come with the honoris. Nor do those from law schools empower you to issue tickets or arrest anyone. Some schools put honorees on the alum list and invite us to contribute to the annual fund. The Steinfels collectively are the recipient of the Laetare Medal (UND). Quite handsome, large medal with a pin on the back. It is forbidden to wear this beautiful object; it is to be kept under a bell-jar-like glass cover. I have always thought it would look great on a puffy black, velvet beret. Perhaps part of my burial outfit.

Mr. Marth: I would be delighted to commission you to investigate the realis of this. What are my "rights and privileges thereof." No one has ever explained.

And post-script, a little known fact: David, my fellow parishioner informs me that Sylvester Graham of Graham cracker fame would not approve of their being served in conjunction with cognac. Graham invented them in 1829 and he was a Presbyterian minister.  Wiki



Margaret, I say use the polluted, non-organic cranberries. Like fruitcake, most people make cranberry sauce or jam to put on the table, but nobody eats it.

All those whole-grain folks like the Kellogg, Post, and Graham were tee-totallers. T.C. Boyle's "The Road to Wellville" is an interesting look into the world of health chicanery at the turn of the 20th Century. It's not for the weak of stomach, but those who can get through it might find it interesting to see some of these old nostrums have resurfaced, for example, black coffee enemas.

I'll just drink mine hot in a cup if it's all the same ...

A scout has just returned from Northern Manhattos with two bags of non-organic cranberries, only a few rotten! It will be gone by the end of New Year's Day!  Fruitcake: that's another story.

I think honey used while preparing the dish had made all the difference. Honey does give your dish a vibrant texture.

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