Category: lovely things

Symptoms that a Soviet Loves You

You arrive at her house for a visit, and a “casual lunch on the patio” consists of red caviar and blinchiki (Russian crêpes), festooned with sour cream and fresh dill. Oh, and a perfect salad of fresh radishes, green onions, and cucumbers. Side effects of caviar-on-landing may include weakness in the knees, but Japanese beer is a good remedy for that.

What’s for dinner when a Soviet loves you? Homemade golubtsy (stuffed cabbage rolls) topped with more sour cream, of course. Sour cream is an important component of Soviet love. Side effects of golubtsy-love may include bloating and boasting.

Have you found the love of a Soviet Jew? Then lunch the following day will probably be shuba, that fuchsia salad of Eastern-European Jewish diaspora, made of salted herring, potatoes, carrots, beets, onion, hard-boiled eggs, mayonnaise, and dill. My Soviet is an expert at using the smallest amount of mayonnaise humanly possible, so her shuba never gloppy. Side effects of shuba-love may include eating beets for breakfast and excessive bragging on your blog.

Merci beaucoup, M!

Clarence Jumps for Joy: More Boston Feasts

When we weren’t eating the insects of the sea, we ate some other pretty terrific stuff during my brief sojourn in Boston. After a day of sightseeing and shopping on Newbury Street, M and I headed to Barbara Lynch’s The Butcher Shop (52 Tremont Street, Boston, MA 02118, 617.423.4800, www.thebutchershopboston.com). I’d been excited to try The Butcher Shop ever since my friend J purchased her Thanksgiving turkey there last year to rave reviews. It’s a real carnivore pleasure hanging out there, as they do much of the butchery right in the center of the dining area (vegetarians and the squeamish should probably eat somewhere else, if the name of the restaurant wasn’t clue enough). The refrigerated case would be the first thing I would rob given the opportunity and disposition for theft.

We ate lunch at the bar, drinking rosé and sharing a charcuterie plate of mortadella, prosciutto di Parma, salami Biellese, spicy sopressata, game bird en croûte, pâte de campagne, and a foie gras terrine, as well as a few cheeses from their excellent selection.  Everything was lovely, though the portions are pretty miniscule. I did secretly long for the heavy, unfussy charcuterie plates at Le Baron Rouge, but as far as US charcuterie goes, The Butcher Shop is pretty great. For the Boston folks, it would also be an excellent resource if you were looking for an unusual cut of meat.

For my final evening in Cambridge, M had made reservations at the cozy local restaurant Bondir (279A Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02139, 617.661.0009, www.bondircambridge.com). Named for chef Jason Bond and presumably meant to evoke something like “to leap for joy” in French, it has a bit of a different connotation for French speakers (especially the filthy-minded ones like us). Let George Brassens explain:

Egregious sexual innuendos aside (and there were certainly a lot of them), Bondir is a truly gorgeous restaurant. It’s tiny — only 28 seats — meaning that reservations are a must, though I did see a few people loitering by the handsome fireplace hoping that a table would open up as the evening progressed. Bondir’s menu changes daily and focuses on sustainable New England produce and seafood. All the plates come in two sizes and sharing is encouraged – great news if your crew is like my crew and everything gets passed around anyway. On our night in April, we drank a ‘09 Francois Raquillet, ‘Les Naugues’ Mercury première Cru, and the three of us shared the following:

Scituate scallops
 with sorrel, yellowfoot mushrooms, Georgia sweet peas,
 pickled radish pod, and sage froth

French white asparagus salad with 
wild Westport watercress, lemon-chili vinaigrette, pickled rhubarb, 
lemon verbena, and olive oil-poached Day Boat halibut

Red wheat rigatoni with 
braised beef shank, shiitake mushroom, butternut squash, 
Pu-Erh celery baton, and Parmigiano Reggiano

Rouen duck breast with 
Rhode Island white flint cornmeal cake, young onion greens, 
collard greens, and red wine black lentils

Angus beef bavette with 
red wine braised root vegetables, 
rye berries with crème fraîche, and roasting jus

Westport spring-dug sunchokes with 
olive oil-caramel, gingerbread cake, lemon mousseline,
 and fruit leather

Sour cherry trifle with 
mocha chocolate financier, almond milk gelato, and 
meringue brulée

Those final two desserts were really something special – I had never imagined that a roasted sunchoke would make for such an utterly decadent dessert.  I’ll ‘fess up now, I didn’t record the details of each dish with nearly the precision listed above (my real list was more like Scallops! White asparagus! Pasta thing! Duck! Beef! SUNCHOKE DESSERT! Sour cherry sundae!). I fleshed out the details two months later with the happy assistance of the Bondir website. If, like Clarence, your version of porn is restaurant menus, I’d highly encourage a visit, as an archive of past menus is available for your perusal. I’ve gotten some lovely ideas for my own cooking from the site since my visit. A pithy substitute for a lovely evening, but it will have to suffice until I find myself again in Cambridge.

Finally, I’d be totally remiss if I didn’t mention A&J King Artisan Bakers in Salem (48 Central Street, Salem, MA 01970, 978.744.4881, www.ajkingbakery.com), both for their g-g-g-gorgeous bread and free WiFi, which allowed A to study for his exams while M and I browsed the nearby Peabody Essex Museum. We devoured one of their boules and a rhubarb tart at the beach in Rockport, yelling at the seagulls to bake their own damn bread. I brought a bag of A&J’s coconut macaroons back home to Indiana for B, thereby extending my the yumminess of my trip into the following week at home.

Object Relations No. 1: Duralex Glassware

Let’s get down to brass tacks, dear reader. I’m a sick, sick, sicko when it comes to consumer culture. Much of my messing-around-time consists of reading what B has affectionately termed “rich lady blogs,” as in “I’m a rich lady! I buy things! You should buy things too!” Just for reference, this exclamation works best if you do it in a mocking falsetto.

Having outed myself as a rich-lady-blog reader to many of my [lady]friends, I’ve been delighted to discover that some of the smartest, most stylish, and coolest ones are also abashed readers of such internet pap. All of my friends and I have read our Marx and talk a lot about the evils of capitalism, but nevertheless find ourselves spending an enormous amount of time looking at the contents of strangers’ closets and beautiful homes. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that many (most?) of the women writing these rich-lady-blogs are far smarter and more stylish and cooler than I, and therefore deserve their revenue and legions of fans. (And, I know, I know, they also post a hell of a lot more regularly.) But there is a confluence of money and free time implicit in a lot of these blogs that make me feel really uneasy, and the last thing I’d want my dear Bear-Garden readers to think is that I fancied myself to be a wealthy, out-of-touch shiller of luxury goods. Out-of-touch I may be, but I conduct my fantasy life on a pauper’s budget.

That said, everyone who knows me in real life knows that I am incredibly over-invested in the stuff I own. I take brand-loyalty to a whole other level. Much of this I get from my father, who is always eager to sell everyone he knows on his current favorite thing. It’s gotten so bad with him that we now jokingly identify certain objects as my father’s “Product of the Year.” Last year’s winner was a battery-powered wax candle that actually flickers! Everyone and their brother got one for Christmas! However, to parrot my father: “Here’s the thing about it, kid.” It’s not like either of us have a profit motive in telling you about our favorite things, it’s that we both genuinely feel like if we’ve found the very-best-travel-coffee-mug-in-creation that you should know about it. We love you! You deserve the very-best-travel-coffee-mug-in-creation! (It’s called a Contigo, by the way, and it was my father’s Product of the Year 2008.)

With that spirit in mind, I’m inaugurating a new feature here at The Bear-Garden: Object Relations. I’m doing this partly because I want to share with you all of the things I love, and partly to try and get content up on this site with some kind of regularity.

Without further ado, I bring you Object Relations No. 1:  Duralex Glassware.

As the child of proto-hipsters, I grew up drinking skim milk every single night out of a 16-ounce Duralex Picardie tempered-glass tumbler. I didn’t recognize the brand as anything special, though I did associate seeing the circular “Duralex, Made in France, depuis 1945” imprint on the bottom of the glass with having permission to get up from the dinner table. You see, hippies they may have been, but my parents didn’t indulge any of this newfangled nonsense about picky eating when I was a kid. I could leave the table once I had cleaned my plate and drank all my milk. Sometimes it was hard to choke down that final inch or so of bluish skim milk, so spying the Duralex imprint became indelibly associated in my mind with freedom.

Like all things that belong to one’s parents, I thought of Duralex as weird and stupid when I left home and was shopping for my own glassware. It was only after a few years of shattered glasses that I realized how ridiculously well-made and virtually unbreakable Duralex products are. Fast forward to my twenty-something Francophilia, when I ‘discovered’ that Duralex is not only a national treasure in France, but totally ubiquitous at every bistro in Gallic territory. That is to say, not only are Duralex burly beyond belief, but they convey a certain kind of Continental cool. Let’s just say that many Derrida-reading, Gainsbourg-listening hipster men have fallen under my spell, and that probably had more than a little bit to do with the Côtes du Rhone red I served them in a Duralex.

My personal collection began at the age of 22 with a 24-piece set of Picardie tumblers, all of which have survived numerous-cross country moves and plenty of drunken fumbles. Nearly a decade later, while I do happen to possess a fair amount of non-Duralex glassware, nine times out of ten B and I drink most everything out of those very same Picardie tumblers. During my time in Paris, I gleefully “acquired” several out-of-production vintage goodies: a square Lys serving bowl and two ribbed small tumblers.

I say “acquired” because I guess I technically stole these vintage delights. The bowl “technically” belonged the people I rented my apartment from and I “replaced” it with an Ikea version. The tumblers came from some heinous South-American-fusion restaurant on rue Amelot. The food was so terrible and expensive that I somehow rationalized pocketing the glasses. B has described them as among our more treasured possessions, not only because they have excellent hand-feel but also because that theft represents one of the only times he has witnessed my ever-relentless superego, well, relent and break the Law. It only happens once in a blue moon, so it’s good to have a souvenir of the occasion.

My beloved M (Francophile-extraordinaire) is equally Duralex-crazy. Sometime in 2011 we heard a terrible rumor that the company had gone out of business and ceased production. This resulted in a mad dash to rich-lady-blog-Mecca, a.k.a. Merci, where we both purchased a set of smallest Gigogne tumblers. These will be used to serve espresso to my guests in a fantasy, future, rich-lady-blog kind of life in which I have an espresso machine. Currently they are used for tequila shots, and work splendidly for that purpose as well. If you ever want to buy me a present (hint hint), I dream of a full set of 10 circular Lys stackable bowls.

You can freeze them or pour boiling water into them. You can accidentally drop them on the floor or the counter and ninety percent of the time they’ll survive without a scratch. They’ll last about twenty years longer than comparably priced glasses from Ikea (my parents’ tumblers are probably over thirty years old and still look great). They’re simultaneously utilitarian and chic, and might bring back fond memories of that-one-night-at-that-one-bistro-in-Lyon for one of your friends. Frankly, I can’t get enough Duralex, dear reader, and for that reason, it’s first among my Object Relations.

The three smaller photos in this post shamelessly stolen from Duralex USA’s website, http://www.duralexusa.com. While I bought my Duralex in the US from Williams-Sonoma back in 2005, it appears that they are now primarily sold here in the States at Sur La Table. Frogs can pick a more extensive selection up at BHV or Merci. I guess I’m also supposed to say that I haven’t been paid for this endorsement, not that any company would pay for such a meandering and verbose write-up in the first place.

Juanita’s Banana Bread + A Small Tribute

Some dark clouds have gathered Chez Bear-Garden, as my amazing 95-year-old grandmother is in the process of passing away from this world to whatever lies on the other side. There aren’t really any wise or clever words to dose out in this situation. All I can say is that she has lived a long and interesting life and raised a great family in the process, and I am still sorting how much emptier the world will be for my family without her in it.

Juanita is the most fiercely independent person I’ve ever known, and if I had to describe her in two words or less I would say “elegant mettle.” Originally raised in a Southern Colorado/Northern New Mexico Hispanic farming community that can trace its roots there to the early 16th century, she married into a family of Sicilian immigrants who had settled into the San Francisco Bay area. The fusion of those two culinary traditions — roasted green chiles, queso blanco, and blue corn on the one hand, salted anchovies, Cioppino, and homemade raviolis on the other — is what my family considers comfort food of the first order. All of us cook the way we do because of the way my grandparents cooked, and one of the ways I will always remember Juanita is through the culinary traditions that she and my grandfather started and that I hope will be shared with the generations to come in our family.

As a small tribute to her, I wanted to share one of my favorite of her recipes. An inveterate sweet tooth, my grandmother would always have a cake, a pie, or a loaf of famous banana bread for her visitors. Her banana bread is perfect, simple solution to that bunch of rotten bananas that you might have hanging out in your kitchen right now. My mother would always bake some for parties or for a sick neighbor, and today I often make a loaf at the beginning of the week for easy, yummy breakfasts on the go.

Juanita’s Banana Bread

You need:

1 cup of sugar

1/2 cup of butter or vegetable shortening

2 eggs

3-4 very ripe bananas (we’re talking brown, shriveled, and fruit-fly ready)

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup walnuts or pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease loaf pan well with butter and sprinkle with flour. Cream together sugar and butter. Add eggs and bananas to butter and sugar mixture and mix well. I find that a potato masher works excellently for smushing up the bananas. Add flour, baking soda, and walnuts or pecans. Mixture will be stiff. Pour into pan and bake for one hour or more until toothpick comes out clean from the center of loaf when inserted. 

Second generation modification: My mother used to serve slices of banana bread topped with cream cheese and black olives at her wild parties of the 1970s and 1980s. It’s not my cup of tea, but a lot of people reading this blog might have fond memories of those days.

Third generation modification: To make this a bit healthier for weekday breakfasts, I like to substitute 1/4 cup of flour with 1/4 cup of ground flaxseed.  I also omit one banana and add instead a cup of frozen blueberries when I add the nuts.

Clarence Eats Crustaceans, or, Lobsterfest 2012

I went to Boston this past spring because I had been listening to a lot of Joan Baez and going to Boston in the springtime seemed like the thing to do. No, actually I went to Boston to visit M and her lovely husband A at their digs in Cambridge, where A was completing a fancy degree at that fancy college there. Now he can join the legions of people who, upon being queried where they went to graduate school, can say “A school outside of Boston?” The trick is raise your voice at the end, so it sound like a question. Nobody can be sour grapes about what a rock star you are if you make your answer sound like a question. That is my tip for you, dearest A.

M knew that one of my biggest gripes about my landlocked existence this year was the dearth of lovely seafood available in Indiana. So our first stop was Alive and Kicking Lobsters (269 Putnam Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139, 617.876.0451, http://www.aliveandkickinglobsters.com), a no-frills seafood shop and lobster-sandwich purveyor that was dangerously close to M and A’s apartment. I say “dangerously close” because if someone with the non-existent willpower of yours truly lived nearby she would probably eat there every single day. I hate it when you order a lobster roll and they skimp on the lobster, or mix in Pollack, or give you a sandwich that is 90% mayonnaise or bread. I would say that Alive and Kicking makes a damn perfect lobster sandwich, with an unearthly amount of sweet fresh meat, a little herbal kick (tarragon?), locally-baked scali bread, and just enough mayo to keep the whole thing moist. Paired with some salty chips and lovely picnic table seating outside, and you’ve got yourself a pretty awesome local place, should you find yourself in “Cambridge?”

I was also starved for some good-old-fashioned unclean eatin’, so M took me out to get a bivalve fix at the Island Creek Oyster Bar (500 Commonweath Avenue, Boston, MA 02215, 617.532.5300, islandcreekoysterbar.com). One of what appears to be a growing trend of restaurants that own the farms where their oysters are grown, Island Creek is a serious destination for oyster-lovers (and is priced accordingly). I was able to sample a variety of lovely gems, including the namesake Island Creek oysters grown by Skip Bennett in Duxbury, MA and Stephen Wright’s babies from Chatham, MA. All of this was paired with a lovely bottle of Grüner Veltinger, which M and I had independently decided is the ultimate oyster-pairing wine. The climax of the evening, however, was sampling my first ever Belon oyster (grown in Maine). M described eating a Belon as “basically like taking a big bite out of a zinc countertop,” and I’d have to concur with her assessment. Oyster-lover I may be, but I don’t think I’ll be buying any more of those metallic little suckers anytime soon.

But we weren’t done! Oh no, we were definitely not done in Clarence’s crusade to eat every single crustacean and bivalve on the eastern seaboard. Graciously, A took a day off from work the week before finals (!) and the three of us drove up to Rockport, Massachusetts for ocean gazing, beach walking, and knickknack shopping. Scenery aside, our main objective was lunch at Roy Moore Lobster Co. (39 Bearskin Neck, Rockport, MA 01966, 978.546.6696). If you’ve ever watched a Red Lobster commercial late at night and felt an elemental pang of longing for the red flea (not from Red Lobster, obviously, but these commercials do seem to be my trigger), this is your Valhalla. Lunch was stuffed clams, smoked salmon with horseradish cream, freshly-shucked Wellfleet oysters, and the two most beautiful lobsters I’ve ever seen, all for a price that made me say “No seriously, how much did that actually cost?!”

Eaten outside while staring out over fishing boats and hundreds of lobster traps, it was the kind of Ur-experience of a lobster shack, and something I would happily cross off of my bucket list if I had such a thing. I don’t, but if you do, definitely add “Eat lobsters at an old-school New England lobster shack with your best friends.” It’s definitely worth the trip.