Since Anthony Weiner has turned the weiner into a vulgar joke, it might be time to return to an earlier era. One where the weiner was something to be proud of. I speak of the days of Murray Handwerker, the proprietor of the chain of hot-dog emporia Nathan’s Famous. Better famous than infamous.
Years ago, my wife and I lived in Midtown Manhattan. Nathan’s Famous was a local destination. You could go to Times Square, buy a hot dog, and watch young men enlisting in the army across the street. It was a good date night. My wife loved Nathan’s hot dogs. They had a deal: people would be standing outside of the store with leaflets advertising three for the price of two. My wife always bought three and gave one to a homeless person. It was our form of philanthropy.
Beckoning from the window was a hardcover copy of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Cookbook. Quite simply, my wife coveted it. Time and time again, she went in and inquired about a possible purchase. The answer was always: not for sale. It turns out it was signed by Murray Handwerker himself. A true collector’s item, on the order of a copy of the Old Testament signed by God. And then one day—a very sad day—they closed the Times Square store. Everything had to go … including the copy of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Cookbook.
Suddenly, it was ours. Or, really, my wife’s. It had pride of place on the shelf in the kitchen, next to Julia Child and Escoffier. A trinity of culinary excellence. Years went by, dust settled on the books. But it was “re-discovered” by my beloved editor Karen Schmeer and my son, Hamilton. Karen was a cook, among other things. And my son was a fledgling chemist. A perfect combination to make a meal from Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Cookbook.
Beckoning from the window was a hardcover copy of Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Cookbook. Quite simply, my wife coveted it.
You could call it, kindly, a farrago of inedible confections, but we were not deterred. The cookbook is divided into chapters: soups and chowders, main dishes, casseroles, Continental dishes, salads, and party dishes. We went for Continental dishes. Specifically, hot-dog lasagna. The recipe is enclosed:
One thing that is still puzzling to me—I wouldn’t exactly dignify it by calling it a “conundrum.” The call for ground hot dogs. Aren’t hot dogs already ground? Wouldn’t they then be double-ground? Why grind up pre-ground meat? My son suggested that what we are dealing with here is “meta-meat.” But I’m not sure I agree. Double-ground meat is still meat. (Though I suppose it doesn’t preclude it being also meta-meat.)
I’m reminded of a story told to me by my production designer, Ted Bafaloukos. A man was woken up by a thud coming from his front lawn. He walked outside and found a skinned gorilla. After a short investigation, he was able to determine that the gorilla had fallen off a truck on its way to a hot-dog factory.
We made the dish. The cookbook says it serves 10. We decided to add some brandy and set it on fire. But even though it was pretty damn impressive, no one—absolutely no one—was willing to eat it.
Errol Morris is an Editor at Large for Air Mail