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Developing Your Taste – The New York Times

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This week, the Caesar salad celebrated its 100th birthday. I hadn’t ever considered the age of the Caesar before reading the Times article on its origins, but I think I would have assumed it was born in the 1970s, maybe in a steakhouse in San Francisco. So I was surprised to learn that the American menu mainstay was, according to a new book, invented in Tijuana in 1924 by a charismatic Italian restaurateur named Cesare Cardini who prepared the salad in a theatrical tableside performance that enchanted the glamorous Americans who, during Prohibition, streamed into Mexico to drink, smoke and revel. (The exact details of the origin story are the subject of some dispute among historians.)

I have, for what feels like 100 years now, been trying to replicate at home the Caesar dressing found at a popular Manhattan restaurant from which I used to get a salad every single day, until I realized I was going to have to dip into my 401(k) if I didn’t figure out an alternative. I’ve meticulously titrated the dressing’s ingredients in my kitchen laboratory, increasing oil and reducing acid, doubling the Parmesan and tripling the Dijon. I’ve experimented with MSG and even, in a brief moment of delirium, created my own dried anchovy powder to sprinkle on top. The Caesar salads I’ve created are fine, maybe even good, but they’re not the same as the desk lunches of my obsession.

In honor of the Caesar’s centennial, I brought my beloved restaurant salad to Sam Sifton, the founding editor of NYT Cooking and the most thoughtful home chef I know, to see if he could give me pointers for recreating it. He had some tips — try Worcestershire instead of anchovies, grind the Parmesan in a food processor, add more black pepper than I might think prudent.

But then he suggested, in the nicest way possible (I think), that my goal of trying to reproduce this restaurant’s salad was never going to lead to satisfaction. Why try so hard to recreate something that already exists when I could spend my time making my own version, or making something else entirely? This dressing came from a big kitchen and was made in batches vast enough to feed hordes of Midtown office workers. Cooking at home, I’d have none of those constraints and could create something excellent according to my own standards.

I felt a little foolish after talking to Sam, like a child who can’t entertain that there might be foods they’d enjoy besides hot dogs and buttered noodles. Why was I so determined to replicate this salad? Why couldn’t I just let it be a thing I liked, and knew where to get, without needing to harness it? And how good was it really? This was a takeout salad I usually ate mindlessly, and in a hurry, at my desk. In the bustle of a stressful work day, a salad that under other conditions might be just decent can be transporting simply because it’s providing sustenance.

When I asked Pati Jinich, the writer of the Times story on the Caesar’s 100th birthday, why she thought this salad from Tijuana became such a global phenomenon, she said it had as much to do with the excitement of anything-goes, Prohibition-era Tijuana and the charming theatricality of Cesare Cardini as the salad itself. “It was the moment, the man and the dish,” she said. People liked the salad, sure, but what they really liked, what really made it special, was the experience of being in Cardini’s checkered-floor restaurant when he wheeled over his fresh ingredients and whipped up the salad in a big wooden bowl.

Here I was, essentially trying to recreate the experience of being a tired office worker stuffing food in her mouth with a plastic fork between meetings. I brought the salad to Sam expecting he’d reveal to me the secret that would permit me to make it at home. Instead, our conversation marked the end of my quest to replicate the takeout Caesar once and for all. “Let none of us aspire to recreating the deliciousness of the salad we ate at our desk,” he pronounced solemnly as we parted. An aspiration I’ll consign to my unenlightened past, that time that Shakespeare’s Cleopatra, remembering her foolish carrying-on with another Caesar, called “my salad days, when I was green in judgment.”

Film and TV

  • President Biden vowed to stay in the race in a defiant interview with ABC News, dismissing concerns about his age. “If the Lord Almighty came down and said, ‘Joe, get out of the race,’ I’d get out of the race, but the Lord Almighty’s not coming down,” he said.

  • During the 22-minute interview, which ABC aired unedited, Biden brushed aside calls to take an independent cognitive or neurological test. But he accepted the blame for his poor debate performance, calling it a “bad night” that was “nobody’s fault but mine.”

  • Asked how he’d feel if Trump won, Biden said, “As long as I gave it my all, and I did the goodest job as I know I can do, that’s what this is about.” Some Democrats said the interview did little to assuage their doubts about Biden’s candidacy.

  • The Times spoke to dozens of swing-state voters who supported Biden in 2020 but now want him to drop out. Two more House Democrats, Seth Moulton of Massachusetts and Mike Quigley of Illinois, called for Biden to do so.

  • Kamala Harris had already taken on a more visible role in Biden’s campaign before last week’s debate. Her allies say she’s the logical choice to become the nominee if he steps aside.

  • Both presidential candidates have big weaknesses. But their parties are reacting to those weaknesses in radically different ways, Peter Baker writes.

Other Big Stories

📺 “The Boyfriend” (Tuesday): Same-sex dating shows are fraught terrain — for every “Are You the One?” Season 8, there is a “Finding Prince Charming” — but “The Boyfriend,” made in Japan and streaming on Netflix, promises to be different. Nine single men are in one house, where, as Motoko Rich and Kiuko Notoya reported, “Sex rarely comes up, and friendship and self-improvement feature as prominently as romance.” Another global hit, “Terrace House,” is in its DNA, but its vibe also sounds like a lower-drama “Love Island.” This summer, we all deserve a new TV show that’s a little on the gentle side.

It’s July, peak firefly watching in my part of the country, with every grassy patch alight with them. If a firefly-watching party is in your future, or, if you just need an excuse to sit outside in the pinkening dusk, you’ll need something cool to quench your thirst. Gabriella Lewis’s limonada (Brazilian lemonade) is just the thing. Condensed milk (either dairy or coconut) makes it sweet; lime juice keeps it tart; and a whirl in the blender lends a frothy, near-frozen appeal. Although crowd-pleasing and family-friendly as is, adding a shot of cachaca or rum would not be amiss.

Adding color: What’s the easiest way to make any room look better? A vase of fresh flowers. Learn how to arrange them.

The Hunt: After a couple traveled around the country in an R.V., they wanted a condo in Washington D.C. Which one did they pick? Play our game.

What you get for $550,000: A two-bedroom cottage in Castine, Maine; a one-bedroom, one-bathroom co-op apartment in Washington; or a circa-1900 house in Louisville, Ky.

“The Bear” menswear: The latest season of the FX series has provided style-obsessed viewers with plenty of fodder.

In the garden: This botanic garden is determined to bring back heirloom apples that taste like those grown 500 years ago. It won’t be easy.

Style outside: See what the rich, famous and fabulous wore at couture week in Paris.

It’s hot out! Feeling parched? Wirecutter’s experts have some advice for how to actually drink more water. First, keep it in sight. Placing a pretty glass or a carafe within reach — and if you like your water cold, an always-full dispenser in the fridge for quick refills — can keep you sipping all day long. For on-the-go hydration, consider investing in a good double-walled tumbler. And if you’re turned off by the blah-ness or the taste of water, try gussying it up with a little carbonation from a soda maker. — Annemarie Conte

For expert advice, independent reviews and deals, sign up for Wirecutter’s newsletter, The Recommendation.

Wimbledon: American women are making their presence felt on the grass courts of the All England Club. Danielle Collins kicks things off for the U.S. contingent, facing Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil at 8 a.m. Eastern today. Collins, 30, announced she would retire after this season, and has since gone on a tear, winning two tournaments and reaching the finals of another.

Two of Collins’s Olympics teammates, Coco Gauff and Emma Navarro, play tomorrow — though, unfortunately for American fans, they’re facing one another. And Madison Keys is still in it, as well: Tomorrow she faces Jasmine Paolini of Italy, who reached the French Open final last month. Matches air on ESPN networks.

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