Uptown Market

At 7 am today we got a new neighborhood food store.  Inspections were passed; staff were being trained; products delivered and recipes retested; shelves are being stocked.  It’s Uptown Market just across the street from us and I think it will be a major addition to our neighborhood.

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“Our neighborhood?”  What is our neighborhood?

We are not a classic Washington neighborhood like Cleveland Park that came about at the turn of the Twentieth Century when the extension of the streetcar made  possible living in “the suburbs.”   Everyone knows Cleveland Park; it’s a national historic district.

I am not clear even about what to call our neighborhood.  Is it Van Ness or Forest Hills?   I would have called it Forest Hills years ago.  But that was before the University of D.C. expanded and became such a presence in Van Ness which is now is a built-up jumble of not-so-attractive buildings that dominate a neighborhood of pleasant and comparatively modest homes.

Whatever it is called, I have a lifelong relationship with this neighborhood.  The first house I bought, in 1970, is on the dead end of 29th Street just below Albemarle, half a mile from Bread Furst.

My relationship with the neighborhood started even before that. My first real job after college was at ABC News.  Its Washington bureau then occupied the second floor of a Deco strip mall on the east side of Connecticut Avenue.  It was a wonderful block.  Hess Shoes at the corner of Albemarle, Shanghai Garden a few doors down, a large People’s Drug Store on the north side of the mall, Kitchen Bazaar, a terrific local kitchenware store.  And I could have breakfast at the Hot Shoppe across the street where the Burger King and Zips Cleaners are now.

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The neighborhood was not a food destination, however.  The little strip mall had two or three little restaurants.  My boss, Howard K. Smith, the newsman, didn’t care much for Chinese Food so we didn’t often go to Shanghai Garden in the peculiar little red and white building just beyond the mall.  But he liked Carmack’s and so we lunched there two times a week.  There was no retail food store in the strip but a building across the street had been constructed 50 years earlier to be a Safeway at a time when supermarkets were much smaller stores.

That is the building we now occupy.

Those were the days when Washington’s retail food was dominated by two chains, Safeway and Giant.  They controlled 80 percent of the food retail.   They were not challenged.  There were mom and pop stores to be sure.  A bit to the north there was a great one, Clover Market across from Higger’s, the drug store.  Noah Steinberg, the son of the owners of Clover Market works in our pastry kitchen.

Now, today there is a change.  As of today we have Uptown Market that in some respects a throwback to the era of neighborhood food stores, and I think it’s going to be wonderful. I went to look again yesterday to look at the store, so my information for you is impeccably fresh.

Fresh like the fish they are going to sell.  Like the meat they are going to butcher.  Like the baguettes we are going to bake for them.

Some readers may know Santi Zabaleta who immigrated from Spain in 1999 and eight years later took over a purified water store on Bethesda Avenue and opened a Spanish foods-oriented market.  Later he added a butcher shop across the street and still later opened Kensington Wholesale Fish.

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Now he and his partner Adam Leichtner take over a large space across the street from Bread Furst in the apartment building the B.F. Saul Company built to replace the little mall atop which I worked in 1961.

So we have another real food store  in Van Ness, Forest Hills, UDC, or whatever we are called. It starts today with beautiful Spanish cheeses including a raw milk Manchego, an aged one, and even French cheeses because as Santi generously admits, “Nobody makes cheeses like the French.”

The whole chickens I saw yesterday look fresh and beautiful.

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It is wonderful for me to see a beautifully tied veal roast in the meat case.  The butcher is French, again a throwback to The French Market, the Georgetown market to which I was devoted for many years.

There’s wine too and beer although hardly the selection offered by Calvert Woodley, a great anchor of the neighborhood.  And there are those special Spanish foods in addition to some of the basics that will provide convenience to the neighborhood.

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As you might gather I am excited to have another food store between the commercial strips of Cleveland Park and Chevy Chase Circle, our own neighborhood food store.   I hope that others will come to this neighborhood to shop — I am sure that they do too — but this store is for Forest Hills, Van Ness, etc., whatever we are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cokie Was Unique

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I don’t remember exactly when we met.  I arrived in Washington in 1961 immediately after college and went to work for her mother’s cousin, Howard K. Smith, the radio and television commentator. Cokie’s sister, Barbara, was my friend; Cokie was Barbara’s younger sister, still in college.  I spent a lot of time that summer at the Boggs’ home and I must have met Cokie sometime that summer.

I read a lot of the obituaries published this week.  I know what she meant to other people –  wise political observer with unique perspectives particularly on Congress, feminist, brilliant journalist.  But Cokie was my friend and what a friend Cokie was!  She wasn’t like other people.  She was Superfriend.  She was more sister to me than friend.   I know that many others feel that way.

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Cokie and Steve have a huge circle of friends.  We always spent Passover and Hanukkah at their home, always the same guest list augmented by the children of her friends and the friends of their children, gradually the grandchildren too.  Anyone connected to her friends and family was welcomed.

There was always an outdoor summer party too.  I think that one was created to feed friends the gifts of Steve’s garden.

Friends whose books got published could look forward to a book party arranged by Cokie and Steve held in their backyard where a tent had been put up and a caterer hired to feed people and a bartender to care for them.

She created a party for me and insisted that I invite everyone, practically everyone in the world to celebrate the Beard award to me; and then she had to miss the party because that was, I presume, when her cancer returned.

Cokie was the celebrant and caretaker of all her friends.  If she hadn’t heard from me in a while she would check in to ask how I was.  We’d make a date, a dinner at my house, a lunch somewhere in Bethesda, a little visit at the bakery.

When my sister was dying, she wanted to take care of me. I wrote to her, “No one is like you.  No one keeps in touch as you do.”  When my brother in law died she insisted on picking me up at the bakery and driving me to the synagogue.

At one of our lunches, Cokie suggested that we reach back to our youth and invite to my home all of our circle who had remained friends for 50 years, an anniversary party of our friendship.  We did it.

This “swamp” for Washingtonians is not a vile place filled with “bureaucrats.”  It is our home filled with people who devote their lives to serving the public and trying to make things better and writing about that.  Now we have lost the person who understood all of that better than anyone, our homemaker.

Steve and Cokie were to have dinner at my home on Wednesday. By today she would have written, “What can we bring?”

I would have responded, “Don’t be silly.  It’s what I do.”

She would have responded,  “We’ll bring some squash.  It’s weighing down Steve’s garden.  And you could adopt my mother’s saying since it would suit you so, when asked what to bring she says, ‘Nothing but your own sweet self’.  Give that a try!

As September changes to October we would have reminded each other that we were beginning our month of sadness, the month in which my sister died, in which her sister died, and in which her father’s plane disappeared in Alaska.

But Cokie now misses the month of sadness and leaves it to me.

 

 

 

A Few Days of Bliss

From time to time during the wet summer heat of Washington I wondered why nature made summer the best time to eat.    Many days here are so hot and the air so heavy that we don’t feel like eating some of the most wonderful foods that exist like pork shoulder or roasted potatoes or desserts with heavy cream.  In addition many families are on the move during the summer and that makes shopping for food more difficult for them.  So too often they must settle for take-out.

None of that affected me in the middle of this year as I spent half of July in Carmel California.

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I confined myself to a cottage sublet to me by my friend Phyllis Theroux, owned by a friendly couple who have lived for a long time in Carmel Valley.  My home for two weeks has two rooms, a bathroom and a kitchen and it was  enough for me.   Outside my door was a large grapefruit tree, a little outdoor patio, and a sensational view.

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That patio was perfect seven hours a day between the time that the fog lifted at 9:30 am and returned at 4:30 pm.  During those seven hours the sky was bright blue every day and the temperature warmed to 75 degrees.  Evenings required a sweater.

I wasn’t particularly active during the month as I had gone there to try to finish the middle of my book – the part that describes my food experiences in Washington during the early 1960s and the rise French food here during the Kennedy Administration

I worked each day as long as I could and when I stopped working I went to a pilates class in Carmel-by-the-Sea and walked in the town. It was an idyllic two weeks

The food I fixed for myself there was somewhat different from the food I prepare here for others.  It was very, very simple like the food here.  I like simple food but this was food stripped down, usually two or three ingredients; and I didn’t eat much bread as I could find no good bread.   If it were not for my life-long self-imposed diet curse and my determination to write I could have made great food as the ingredients around Carmel were always very good.

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I was on the coast of the Salinas Valley, a huge American farm region.  There seem to be no seasons in that part of California.  Strawberries grow not only in the spring as they do in Washington, but all the time.  And apricots have flavor.  I could shop for virtually everything I ate at two farmers markets – a small one in Carmel Valley on Sunday and a very large one on Friday morning at the Monterey Peninsula College.  I could have gone to any one of a number of others like the ones in Pacific Grove and Salinas and in Carmel-on-the- Sea.

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I returned to Washington before the peak of our growing season.  During our summer, there are wonderful tomatoes and beets of different sizes and colors.  Peaches, melons, blueberries, summer squash and green beans that actually have flavor, and corn.

The Saturday Van Ness market, a block away from the bakery, is only a few years old and gets better and better with more and more famers selling more and more produce.   I go there on Saturday mornings as does Robert Dalliah, our savory kitchen’s chef, and we look for what we want to buy. Then at the end of the market, some of the farmers drop off for us to buy what they were unable to sell at the market. We buy as many tomatoes as we can get and can them and make sauce both of which are sold on our shelves into the autumn or as long as they last.   And of course we put the tomatoes into our summer sandwiches and will do that as long as the tomatoes last.

But however good the produce is here,  I am sorry to say that it all really tastes better in California. Carrots are sweeter, peaches are juicier, the centers of strawberries are red not white.  Nature is kinder in California and I took advantage of its kindness, wishing I could do that for a period longer than two weeks.

 

Happy Birthday to Us

We failed to celebrate our anniversary last month and probably I should have boasted about our being five years old.  But it’s not our style to boast.  Even so I shouldn’t allow the moment to pass without thanking you.

We opened Bread Furst believing it would be successful. Of course.  It’s pretty foolish to risk so much to open a business; but what fool would start a business without believing in the likelihood of success?  That’s the nature of entrepreneurship:  It’s the ability to persuade yourself that your idea is so good, it is unlikely to fail.  That’s the way I felt about opening Bread Furst.  Need I add that it doesn’t always work out for everyone? But it did for me.

The other day I walked around the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood at the behest of a long-time resident.  She had come to Bread Furst as a customer the preceding weekend and asked me as I served her across the counter and as people often do, whether I wouldn’t like to open a bakery in her neighborhood.  I put my hand tenderly on her hand and said what I always say when people say to me, “Will you consider opening a bakery in Tenlytown, Ivy City, Bethesda, Capitol Hill, Silver Spring?”

“I am 80 years old and have here all I want,” I told her.  But she implored me to walk with her in Mt. Pleasant and I did so a couple of days later.

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I like Mt. Pleasant.  I live nearby.  It’s decidedly urban and diverse and not too fancy, not yet “developed,” but even if I were still in the bakery-opening business, I would not open a bakery there. I tried to explain as she earnestly showed me a run-down storefront near Mr. Pleasant Avenue, the main drag.

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I told her that parking is too difficult.  The storefront she likes is invisible.  A lot of the neighborhood’s population would not be able to afford to pay prices that are needed to make a small bakery profitable.  Many residents are not attracted by our kinds of breads and pastries.  The bakery traditions of Mt Pleasant are sharply divided by the geographic origins of its residents.

She told me that everyone in the neighborhood knows Bread Furst that many of her neighbors drive “all the way” across the park.  They would so love to have a Bread Furst near them, and that many of the neighbors would patronize us too.

 

It’s strange:  Customers say to me frequently, “I came all the way from Georgetown, Glover Park, Tenlytown, etc. to buy your bread.”  They mean that when they say it as a compliment and I take it that way. But Georgetown?  That’s three and a half miles from here.  Tenleytown?  That’s a mile away, less than that.  It makes me think sometimes when they say this that they all must have grown up in a French village where their neighborhood bakery was on the same streets as their homes.

I digress.

Before I opened Marvelous Market in 1990, I did a survey.  My sons and I walked in the neighborhood near Politics and Prose, my sister’s bookstore, then already six years old, and left questionnaires for residents to tell us what kind of food store they wanted.  I had the benefit of my sister Carla’s experience and vigorous opinions and my own knowledge of this neighborhood in which in 1969 I had bought my first house.

I did what I could to excite the neighborhood about the bakery before we opened and some of our neighbors plunged into the effort, helping to raise money and plan “landscaping,” and even encourage their children’s participation.

 

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We were folded by the neighborhood into its development efforts already underway.

It all worked out.  The bakery might have been successful in other neighborhoods.  I hope that is the case as I would like very much to see others in other parts of the city do what we have done.  And perhaps it is happening.

 

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Jonathan Bethony of Selou Bakery in Shaw

I hope it does happen.  I would be wonderful for the city to have a number of small bakeries in many other neighborhoods.  But none will have the advantage that I have had twice – with Marvelous Market in 1990 and Bread Furst in 2014.  That is so much support from a neighborhood that appreciates incredibly what we do, a neighborhood filled with people who are happy that we are there.

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Every day, I look at families with little children and think that we are giving them something given to me every week starting in 1947 when I was old enough to notice – the baked goods of Silber’s in Baltimore, our neighborhood bakery, just a walk from our house.  We are giving each day the memories that will last a lifetime.  What a gift to them!  What a gift to me!

 

Autumnal Thoughts

From time to time I make notes for a book I will never write.  It would be called Ten Inventions That Ruined the World.  Some of them, I would have to confess, like the automobile, have redeeming qualities even though the automobile has ruined the world.  Others like television have no redeeming qualities at all.  I was reminded of my book that will never be written when I was in England a week or so ago.

I reached old age in the summer this year and realized that I should travel while I still can to places I haven’t seen before.  The English countryside was my first destination. Of course I began in London.  I took the tube at dusk on the day I arrived and then walked to have dinner with Claudia Roden at her home.

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Claudia is the author of exceptional cookbooks that combine food information with history and culture; she is really as much anthropologist and historian as writer and cook.

Her home is in the north of London not a long walk from the Golder’s Green station and I looked forward to the walk as well as to seeing her.   When I turned the corner from the main road I began to smell something very familiar.  I knew exactly what it was, a smell I used to welcome each year in September and October.

I had forgotten it.  No, that’s not right.  I hadn’t forgotten it as I have thought about it at this time of year every year for two or three decades and have missed it, the sweet and sour, acrid, acidic, woodsie, musky smell of drying and rotting leaves.

Autumn has always been my favorite time of year. Its colors, dark and burnished, have always appealed to me.  The overture to winter has always seemed cozy to me.  Darkness seems cozy.  Autumn more than any other season stimulates my memories of childhood.  I remember raking leaves on the hilly front yard of my family’s home in west Baltimore, creating piles on the side of street, jumping into those piles to hide.  Our trees produced enough leaves to line the street heavily along our lawn.

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It was the smells that have been most important of all to me, the smells of autumn that are even more evocative for me than the perfumed smells of spring.

I thought as I heard my feet crunching leaves on that London street and smelled what I think of as autumn perfumes how rarely I have that treat in Washington.  Well, of course, another of the worst inventions of my lifetime has replaced the sounds of crunching leave with those of a loud whiny engine just as it has replaced the sweet and sour odors of rotting leaves with the smells of burning gasoline – the leaf-blower of course.

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People write to neighborhood list-serves at this time of year objecting to the sounds of leaf-blowers.  I agree with them.  A number of years ago I spent a great deal of time in Yountville California helping to open Bouchon Bakery.  Every restaurant and hotel in that little town had its own leaf-blowing team on the streets every morning, a population of machines so large that it seemed as if every leaf had its own captive blower.  The din was impressive and I tried to persuade the then-mayor to adopt a new town slogan:  “Yountville, Leaf-Blowing Capital of America.”  What I didn’t realize at the time because Yountville has no real seasons is that we were all being robbed by that infernal machine of all the smells of nature.

Here in Washington too but especially at this time of year when every embassy, every apartment and office building employs leaf-blowers or puts the machine into the hands of staff already there.

I never understand.  Why did leaves become the enemy?  Why is a pristine sidewalk more attractive than one covered with nature’s debris?  I understand why leaves should be raked once or twice during the fall, but every week?  Everyday?  Why?

And so I was so happy that evening walking the streets in northern London to listen to the crunch of dry leaves under my feet and to smell the complex perfumes of those wet leaves underneath.

Modernity is a thief.

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking to Buff

It’s unseemly, my grandmother would have said, to be obsessed about body weight – although she certainly was obsessed with hers.  It’s true; it is unseemly, especially for someone of my age.  But I am.

As I have spent much of the summer alone in Hardwick, Vermont working on a book, and as I know no one here and eat alone, it seemed like a good time to get buff, really an objective unachievable but an imagined objective somehow more appealing to me than a simple weight-reduction diet.

I know that it is fashionable for people to diet by giving up all carbohydrates, or all white foods, or all foods people started consuming only after the Ice Age, or all sweets or alcohol or all of something. My way of dieting this summer is just less-ness, eating pretty freely foods I like but very small quantities of them.  As it is summer even in Vermont (and that means the temperature is 69 degrees) I have taken advantage of fresh produce and have eaten a lot of vegetables and fruits. But I have tried most of all just to eat less all the time.

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I bought a chicken at the beginning of my stay here, in the second week of July.  I trimmed it and made a stock of those parts.  Then I cut up the chicken and froze those parts individually wrapped.  I portioned the stock and froze it too in portions. I still now after five weeks have most of the stock and half of the chicken.  I will try to do something with them by the coming weekend when I return to Washington.

I brought with me from Washington some very good dried beans and some very good pasta.  They are filling and not highly caloric if eaten in small quantities.  I have teamed them with vegetables through my stay here.

Fruit is pretty good in Vermont; that’s because most of it comes from Pennsylvania.  Still I have been able to pick berries around here and they taste very good.  And when accompanied by the best chocolate I know, Recchiuti ordered from San Francisco, peaches and berries make a very good dessert. A bit of chocolate after that is all I need to raise my blood sugar after dinner.

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I have an advantage and I have said this before:  I like to cook even if only for myself.  I assume that everyone who thinks about food and writes about food also likes to cook.  So I was jarred a few weeks ago when one of my favorite Websites, Serious Eats, published this

       After a busy day, the last thing you want to do is spend hours in the kitchen pulling dinner together.  Luckily, we have wealth of delicious weeknight meals that will have you in and out of the kitchen in one hour or less.

I think it is pretty bizarre for a Website that devotes itself to the joys and intricacies of cooking to concern itself with time in the kitchen.  Certainly I don’t spend hours in the kitchen, but what I most look forward to after a day of work is cooking for myself.  I have had fun this summer doing that especially since all the ingredients I have wanted are available on Friday afternoons at the Hardwick famers’ market and on Saturday mornings at the farmers’ market in the picture-perfect common of Craftsbury where I am able to buy very good local cheese from Bonnieview Farm, raw milk, and organic eggs with bright orange yolks.

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My diet, I admit it, is very different here than at home where all the temptations reside.  My greatest temptations in Washington are in restaurants and I don’t go to restaurants here although I intend to go once this week, my last week, to eat fried clams.

My biggest dietary problem is that I seem unable to resist eating all of a dish served at restaurants like Kinship and Bibiana.  it seems like such a shame to me to waste good food and it’s embarrassing to me to ask, “Will you pack that for me?”  And it all tastes so irresistibly good that I am unable to control the portions I eat when I am in restaurants.  If I go this week to The Scale House, a new seafood restaurant in downtown (so to speak) Hardwick, for fried clams, can I really send half the plate back to the dish room?   Perhaps I can buy an appetizer portion.

But I have not gone to restaurants here.  Instead, I have eaten in the little house I rent.   Breakfast, when I eat anything at all, has been a piece of toast with a schmear of peanut butter.  The Buffalo Co-op in Hardwick sells a delicious brand called Once Again.

Lunches have been an egg poached in a spicy sauce of fresh tomatoes, a poor man’s shakshuka, or a fruit salad or sliced tomatoes with onions and anchovies.  Or tomatoes mixed with little pieces of old bread.

I have started dinner perhaps four out of seven days with an ear of corn steamed for five minutes although corn hadn’t yet appeared at market during the first weeks I was here; but it’s here now.  After my ear of corn I have eaten a variety of vegetable concoctions made with tomatoes, corn, cauliflower, green beans, peas, local potatoes, made with very small quantities of olive oil but larger ones of lemon juice, herbs, and onions and garlic.

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As for bread, I can’t give it up.  I am sure you understand.  But I have tried to limit myself to one slice at breakfast of the best whole grain breads I can find at the Co-op here and at the far larger one in Montpelier.  Those come from Red Hen Bakery (please, please don’t tell Sarah Saunders) and Elmore Mountain Breads.

All the while during these weeks, my fantasies of a cheeseburger have grown to the point that Mintwood Place has become an imagined paradise.

I return to Washington this weekend with a new resolve.  When I go to restaurants I will try to eat only a few ounces of particularly wonderful foods and then when the server isn’t looking I will, doubtless with an embarrassed look toward my dinner companion, slip leftovers into a couple of sheets of aluminum foil and plastic bags I will have carried discretely with me.

The Red Hen(s)

Mike Friedman, the owner of The Red Hen, a really wonderful neighborhood restaurant in Washington, dropped by yesterday morning.  He told me about telephone calls he has received from around the country and the number of death threats presumably from Trump supporters incensed about the denial of service to the White House press secretary at a restaurant with the same name in another place.

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My favorite story about a restaurant’s refusal to serve a customer was one Jean Louis Palladin told me in the early ‘90s.

Palladin, in case the name is unfamiliar to you, was Washington’s first truly great chef.  Incongruously located in the unfashionable basement of the Watergate Hotel, his restaurant was internationally important.  Jean Louis contributed greatly to our development as a food culture, but that’s another story.

Shortly after it opened in 1979, Jean Louis at the Watergate was reviewed by Robert Shoffner, the Washingtonian Magazine’s critic who savaged it.  The review was really remarkable.  Jean Louis himself said, “Never in France have I read a review such as that.  He didn’t merely write about what he ate, he attacked me. He attacked my taste and my talent. If I were to believe him, I would go out there (into the Potomac River across the road) and disappear.”

Although Jean Louis moved to Washington when he was a Michelin two-star chef, the youngest person ever to have been awarded two stars –  although he was a man of great self-confidence, he told me twelve years later that he was so hurt by the review that, “Every morning when I woke up my first thought was about what I could do to him, how I would hurt him the way he hurt me.”  He got a chance only a few years later and only after Shoffner had written a second negative review.

Shoffner came to the restaurant one night for dinner.  When Jean Louis, in the kitchen, was told that Shoffner had arrived, he walked out into the dining room and told Shoffner he would not cook for him.

Shoffner told him that the law required Jean Louis to cook; his was a public accommodation and coulimage.pngd not refuse a customer.  When Jean Louis did just that, Shoffner called the police.

Jean Louis told me, “They came – there were two.  One of them was ree-ally beeg and they were both wearing their pee-stoles and their talkie-walkies were loud.”  Shoffner made his complaint to the police officers who after they conferred with each other, told Jean Louis that the law required him to serve Shoffner.

Jean Louis retreated to his kitchen.  He told his staff to prepare a dinner but to send none of the restaurant’s cooking.   Instead they found a tin of fois gras a salesman had left months before.   They served oysters on the half-shell with lemon, no sauces. They sliced prosciutto and bread and they served butter and cheeses. For dessert they sent whole fruits.

The following day, I was told, Shoffner filed a complaint at the D.C. Office of Human Rights but I don’t know what happened to it.   I do know that Shoffner’s enmity persisted because I was a witness to it more than ten years later.

I have read a lot this week about a restaurant’s refusal to serve.  I am an intensely political person and have been all my life.  Indeed my political career began in 1948 when at the age of ten  I walked door-to-door in a working class neighborhood not far from my grandparents’ home in Baltimore to oppose the Ober Law that imposed a loyalty oath on public employees in Maryland.

I stayed political for many years  working in many political jobs.  In the late 1960s I worked for a United State Senator, Joseph Tydings, a Democrat from Maryland.  Because my responsibilities included his press relations, I got around a lot in the Senate.

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One day I was in the press gallery to pitch a story on a criminal justice bill of which Tydings was the floor leader.   Sen. Everett Dirkson, the Senate’s Republican leader, was giving a little press conference while Sen. William Proxmire, was waiting to make a statement.  I watched Senator Proxmire, not the most light-hearted of men, subtly make faces that might distract Dirkson.  When he finished saying what he had to say, Dirksen rushed toward Proxmire in the pretense of an attack, both of them laughing.

Cokie Roberts has pointed out that politicians of that era, including her father, could be rivals but they couldn’t be enemies because they shared something that shaped their lives and feelings and politics, World War II.  Their feelings about having been part of something truly momentous, a common experience in which they were allies, was reinforced in an earlier Washington where politicians didn’t retreat on Thursdays to homes in their districts, but lived here with their families where their wives socialized and their children shared schools.

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As Dirksen said,  I am a man of fixed and unbending principles, the first of which is to be flexible at all times.

That, as we all know, has changed.  It’s hard to imagine such comity.  When I was political we were competitive and committed but we were not angry.  But now politics has left me and I am left only with those values that were always important to me.

This is a time of anger.  This week I have been wondering how I would respond if the President’s press secretary decides to come here to the bakery.  Would I in this uncivil time be uncivil?

What happened last weekend started as a dignified and private protest of a small business owner against a President, a presidency, and a politics she can’t bear.  I have not heard that Stephanie Wilkinson, owner of the restaurant that declined to serve Sarah Sanders, was uncivil.  It was not she who told the world about her stand. Why did Ms. Sanders use her great power to bring danger to a little restaurant in a small town in Virginia – not to mention the one here in Washington – and the one in Maine – and all those with the same or a similar name?

It was not the owner the Red Hen who invited the President of the United States to attack a little small-town restaurant.  (Have we become insensitive to the absurdity of these Tweets, the unseemly President of the United States commenting on the condition of an awning outside a little restaurant in a little town?)

I wonder what is now going to happen and I wonder what is right.  The harassing of Secretary Nielsen in a Mexican restaurant.  The discussion about whether all Trumpers should be harassed wherever they go.

How may we who own food businesses in Washington, any of which might attract Sarah Saunders or Senator McConnell or Stephen Miller, express disagreement without incivility or should we worry about incivility at all?  I have read the argument of those who say that Trump enablers do not deserve civility.

I would be surprised if we in the heart of a residential neighborhood of Washington populated not by transient politicians but by people who live their lives here, ever see a Trump supporter.  But if one of those who work for the administration – or others to whom graciousness and honesty are foreign ideas did come here, I think I would compromise.  I don’t want either simply “to go high when they go low,” as Michelle Obama advocated, or, as Maxine Waters recommends, to harass people who are destroying our polity.

I think I would like to say simply to a Trumper, “’I want you know that I am furious about what you are doing to this country.  What may I get you?”

 

The Joy of Cooking

I am in Carmel, California working on a book that’s in part about the romance of cooking.   I don’t mean the romance of food. I mean of cooking.

I began learning how to cook at approximately the same time as my mother began learning how to cook. My mother hadn’t learn it as a child because my grandmother whom I adored never cooked. She didn’t have to. She employed a cook who might have taught my mother but that woman, a fixture in my family’s life, didn’t want to.

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I don’t know how my mother would have acquired cooking skills if we had continued living in Baltimore, her birthplace and her mother’s and her grandmother’s, etc. But my father, then in the Public Health Service, was assigned in 1942 to Key West and then to the Florida Panhandle and therefore we all, my mother along with my two siblings and me, moved to Florida.

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She, at the age of 32 made cooking progress faster than I did at the age of four but she had advantages: she had to feed a family and she could read the one cookbook she had – The Settlement Cookbook which was the most important one at that time for Jewish home cooks.

I didn’t do much cooking at the age of four but it started to become more or less a part of my life 10 or 12 years after that.  In fact in a sense that’s what I am writing a book about. As I am doing practically nothing in Carmel other than writing about food, it seems even more jarring than usual for me to read about cooking in newspapers:

“Quick and easy recipes to try this weekend”

“Cooking polenta is easier than you think.”

“Thirty minute spaghetti and meatballs.”

Those reassurances appear in many articles about food:  Only four ingredients are required. Only ten minutes of actual work.

And then they go to the opposite extreme and run articles about knife skills and how to poke meat to gauge its doneness, how to buy just the right pots and pans and immersion blenders, and smoke your own fish, and do sous vide at home – all of which reinforces the impression many people have: That cooking requires lots of expensive equipment and lots of skill.

 

 

I am told as you are that many, perhaps most of the people who watch cooking shows on television don’t cook. They watch those shows because they enjoy seeing other people cook or because they like competitions.

But I doubt that most people who read the food pages of newspapers do so just for their amusement. So why is the underlying assumption in newspaper food pages that people who read about cooking don’t know anything it? I suspect they do. I suspect that they love food and want to learn more about preparing it. For them ease of it may not be the most important matter.

I wish we could get beyond the theme that cooking is hard and not worth a lot of your time; therefore we have this quick and easy recipe for you.

It is true that some cooking these days exceeds the interest of most people. Few of us want to make our own spice mixtures and powders. Few of us want to buy sous vide circulators. Cooking from The French Laundry Cookbook is purely a labor of love and for serious hobbyists, not for people who want simply to make good food from good ingredients.

It never occurred to me as a young person that cooking was hard or that is wasn’t worth my time.   For me it was simply inevitable.

My generation learned to cook as we grew up. In my boyhood I fixed foods after school for myself and sometimes for a hungry sibling too. As young people we cooked from The Joy of Cooking and then from Julia Child’s first volume of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

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That became a bit of a bible for nearly everyone I knew and it was followed by the comprehensive American Cookery by James Beard. My aunt gave that to me when it was first published and every time I consult it I think of her.

Right now, in Carmel I engage in four activities, writing about food, Pilates, reading food literature, and feeding my weight reduction diet.

When I arrived in Carmel three weeks ago, I bought dried pinto beans and chickpeas, canned tomatoes, V-8, and olive oil. The next day I went to the Monterey College farmers’ market (I found it on the Internet) and bought there some chicken backs and tons of vegetables. I used the chicken with vegetable scraps (parsley stems, asparagus and scallion ends, mushroom stems, and two carrots and an onion that weren’t scrap) to make a chicken stock.

And that has been one of the bases of my cooking here.

I have bought other foods of course: Fish from a really good market I stumbled on, avocados, root vegetables, mushrooms and artichokes from the Ferry Plaza Market in San Francisco. as well as Richutti chocolates with which I reward myself after dinner each evening for my unwanted abstemiousness.

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All sorts of fruits grow here, of course, including the best strawberries I have even eaten. Lemons and grapefruits grow on trees outside my door and that reminds me once again how different California is from the real world.   But although all this fruit is wonderful for snacking, it’s my food preparation here that makes those newspaper attitudes so jarring to me.

I made a vegetable stock in addition to the chicken one. I cooked in a little bit of olive oil vegetables and scraps that I then dumped into a pot, added water and salt, and simmered. I use this broth for cooking artichokes and poaching asparagus. It perpetuates itself as the vegetables I poach in it give it even more flavor.

I have added to it a couple of lemon rinds and more scrapes and I thin it with additional water sometimes. I use it as a soup base too and added a bit of it to a sauce I made from red bell peppers, canned tomatoes, onions, garlic, anchovies that I use to top fish I cook in a frying pan.

I keep the broth in the refrigerator.

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I made a second sauce in the blender I found in the kitchen of this two room cottage. Anchovies, avocados, lemon juice, toasted walnuts, olive oil, a lot of garlic, and the leaves of a whole large bunch of flat leaf parsley made a parsley pesto that is wonderful with my artichokes and asparagus and good to add to winter greens I simmer with a bit of the vegetable stock.

I only have a few more days here and on Sunday I bought some small grape tomatoes grown in Mexico, violating my principle that tomatoes should be eaten only in season (our season). These I dehydrated in a small toaster oven to concentrate their flavor.

 

IMG_0266It’s all so easy. Sometimes I have to correct foods I make by adding more garlic or by thinning with V-8 or by thickening with a little tomato paste.   But there are very few rules.

For example: I could use raw vegetables when I make stocks but I know that cooking them first (either roasting in the oven or simmering in a little oil on the stove) makes the soups more flavorful.

Toasting nuts before eating them or using them as an ingredient increases their flavor.

Raw garlic and raw onions both which I love can be too sharp; so I marinate them in lemon juice or vinegar before I use them raw as a garnish.

But really even if I don’t do those things, everything works. It doesn’t matter if an onion is chopped finely or coarsely.   I can add lemon or orange juice to a sauce or not. I can top any food with toasted nuts, or not. I can combine small pieces of cooked cauliflower to any other vegetables. I can use my little semi-dried tomatoes as a garnish for whatever I make.

It’s so easy and relaxing and I remember that my mother used cooking as a way of getting away from her (by that time) six children and being by herself. I am entirely by myself here and cooking is for me a way to get out of my head.

But I have to stop.  I went to the farmers’ market last Friday but bought nothing other than farm eggs, artichokes, and strawberries. It was hard for me to limit myself but on Saturday much of the food I might try to take on the flight back to Washington would end up in the hands and perhaps stomachs of TSA agents whom I don’t care to feed.

The theme that runs though the classic cooking literature I am rereading here – M.K.F Fisher, Paula Peck, Laurie Colwin – is that cooking food is itself nourishing. It is rewarding in visceral ways to think about ingredients and flavors and particularly to make do with what’s available and in season.

Moreover the activity of cooking, joyful and engaging, ends with the pleasure of eating either with friends or family or the pleasure of solitary dining which is for me very peaceful.

There is no form of creativity that is easier than cooking. And there is no form of creativity whose failure is less important than cooking. That’s why I find it hard to understand when people say cooking is too difficult, too time-consuming, too fraught.   For me it is easy creativity. Failure is unlikely and, in any case, unimportant.

 

 

 

 

The Weathermen

When I grow up I want to be a weatherman.

I don’t mean a “Weatherman,” one of those young radicals who took their rage to the streets of Chicago in 1969. I mean those whose prognostications I read each day in the Post and hear on NPR.

The weather predictors were right last Saturday. They said we’d have rain and snow in the late afternoon and there was a bit of both. Not much. The roads weren’t slippery as they were supposed to be; but at least this time there was rain and there was snow when they said there would be.

A few weeks ago on January 30th they had direly predicted a horrible morning of ice and snow; and schools were scheduled to open late.   In fact a gloomy early morning turned into bright sunshine by 10 am. There was no snow and the streets were dry. Some parents, in the bakery with their children, weren’t happy but I was.

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Really I should have no complaints about threatening forecasts as an awful lot of neighborhood customers with children come to the bakery on those days when the weathermen (and women) predict doom and the schools close peremptorily. But others complain – even occasionally the weather forecasters themselves.

Dan Stillman of the Capital Weather Gang:

            “D.C. has stood for “dusting central” this winter, and yet the delays and cancellations keep piling up. We Washingtonians like to say it’s always been like this. But I’m here to tell you that it wasn’t always like this. I see our sometimes comical overreactions to snow as part of the charm and character of living here. The threshold, though, was never quite as low as it is now. I grew up here and remember many a time going to bed hoping for a snow day only to wake up with a dusting and an on-time departure for school.” 

I am glad he wrote that as it spares you from hearing from me what it was like in the late 1940s waiting in snowstorms at a corner of our block on North Avenue for a street car that would drop us off at the bottom of a hill a few blocks from PS 87.

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In recent decades, however, a strong forecast of snow following by the arrival of a storm came to justify staying at home from work and closing schools.

Now, however, just the possibility of a storm, the prediction that a storm is likely to arrive, is sufficient to close whole school systems.

I don’t blame weather forecasters for that. I don’t believe they intend to change the world as we know it when they forecast snow. But they do understand the consequences of their predictions; so why don’t they make those predictions with a modesty that should accompany their actual abilities.

The newspapers display weather maps and forecasts not as though they are estimates or projections, but oracles. They certainly don’t say, “Our best guess is that this is what’s coming.” Instead they tell us how much snow we will have in Hagerstown, Quantico, and Jessup.

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As for television forecasts, they are like everything else done by television, dramatic and hyperbolic. Modesty, after all, doesn’t make good television.

Indeed, if I may say, modesty has disappeared from many of society’s institutions.

“Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart.”

I remember the beginning of the weather channel in 1982.  I thought it was a stupid idea, a television station devoted to weather. Who would watch the weather on television?

I was visiting Boston then and a hurricane was supposed to strike Cape Cod. The Weather Channel was there to cover the emergency.   A weatherman wearing orange gear and a hood was standing in a light rain, “We’re expecting the winds to pick up at any moment, Chuck.” Behind him joggers were passing peacefully.

Naturally I was wrong about the success of the weather channel just as I was wrong about the golf channel but my bad predictions don’t cost anything, not even my pride.

Baker-friend Larry Kilborne called to make plans with me on a Tuesday for Friday; but he told me that they’d have to be tentative plans as a big snowstorm was forecast to arrive on Friday morning. I teased him about trusting the forecast and he responded, “Sometimes they are right.”

How is that for an expression of confidence in an establishment we pay so much attention to.

“Tomorrow (Tuesday): Snow showers, which could be locally heavy, are possible from sunrise to mid-to late morning, finishing first in our western areas. Morning temperatures hold steady between about 30 and 34. By the afternoon, it turns quite blustery with winds gusting up to 25 mph as clouds decrease. Highs are mostly in the mid-30s.  Confidence: Medium”

“Confidence Medium?”   Are you kidding. Would you make decisions about anything significant in life (like keeping children out of school) with a merely medium confidence? I wouldn’t fly in an airplane with medium confidence.   I wouldn’t buy a cigar with a medium confidence that I’d enjoy it.

We are held to certain expectations in this bakery. Our breads, pastries, and savories have to be good all the time; they have to be consistent. Customers expect a degree of civility in our service.   We can’t fail very often to satisfy our customers.

Certainly we are not unique in that respect. Who doesn’t have to satisfy their customers/patients/clients/guests?

If weather-people have only modest confidence in what they do, why bother?

Friday, February 16th, was sunny and cold and the Capital Weather Gang wrote:

“Capital Weather Gang:

“Snow, ice and rain likely Saturday afternoon and night with some accumulation possible.”

Snow began falling at 2 pm and the Weather Channel on my telephone said at that moment we were having “light rain showers.” By the end of the afternoon there was a shimmer of snow on the streets, no ice, and little other than water was still on the ground when I left for the bakery on Sunday morning.

            “Forecast: Rain and snow to arrive this afternoon with some accumulation expected tonight. The Washington metropolitan region will see a quick-hitting storm, with the focus of intensity lasting from late afternoon through mid-evening.”

Eun, sent a memo to all staff:

            “Since we are looking at the possibility of a real storm arriving Tuesday night into Wednesday, please keep track of staff.  If we need to bunk people in hotels or my couch, let me know.

As usual, if the storm does hit hard, we are open, but with limited services and hours.   I have a Subaru waiting for snow conditions, if people need rides or rescue.”

Eun has greater respect for most things than I do – she’s a lot younger – and so she still trusts the word of those I rarely believe.

There was no “quick-hitting storm” that day.  I don’t recall that the weather-people said “sorry.”

I have a proposal:  Several years ago I started to clip from the Post each Monday morning its five-day forecast. I kept a record on that day and on the four days thereafter an accounting of the five-day forecasts.   I found that the forecasts published in the Post were correct 55 percent of the time.

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I think we should stop wasting all that money, all the television air time and newspaper space.   All those weather-people could beat their radars into plowshares.

I acknowledge that we should keep hurricane forecasting as it’s really important and seems to me more accurate than daily weather forecasts are. But otherwise, let’s let it go.

It’s an immodest system. Indeed it’s not forecasting – it’s a best guess.

So let’s acknowledge that they are right about 50 percent of the time and standardize the weather forecast.

So from now on one of those inevitable news trios on local television channels could say simply, “It’s cold outside so it may snow. But it may not.”

Or, “There’s a 50 percent chance of rain. It will either rain or it won’t.”

‘Tis the Season — Already

I am sure you know how important the end-of-year holidays – Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve and Day – are to food businesses.   Our customers celebrate the holidays in restaurants; they buy special foods from retail businesses like ours and from mail order. They particularly reward bakeries with appetites for special confections like stollen and bouche de Noel.

bouche-de-noelThey expect a lot from us and rightly so.

It is one thing to go to a holiday party at a restaurant whose food disappoints you. It is quite another thing for you to serve in your home, to your family and guests something you buy from a bakery and be dissatisfied with that – in your own home, at your own table.

Moreover, in many homes holidays are complicated.

“Must we have pumpkin pie – again? We have it every year.”

“How can we possibly not have pumpkin pie? We always have it.”

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And those culinary disagreements are trivial compared to the emotions brought to holiday tables by family patterns and memories and losses.

That’s why we feel responsible for doing the best we can.

Still, Thanksgiving, I believe, is everyone’s favorite holiday. It is without stress about gift selection. As long as I can remember, Thanksgiving has been simply a festival of food. It’s a carefree holiday.

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I am nostalgic about Thanksgiving because it was, when I was a child, one of those we celebrated at the great brown cedar Victorian home of my grandparents in Baltimore. My siblings and I dressed up (now a quint custom) and plowed through piles of leaves (remember the beautiful smells of autumn in the pre-leaf-blower days) to join my aunts, uncles, and cousins for a great afternoon feast.

That began with sherry in the living room and moved into the bright dining room where the “big table” was – that was for the adults – and into the music room where the “little table” was. The dinner was slowly served by my grandparents’ “staff,” soup first, then turkey and its trimmings, many other dishes, each year the same dishes, each year looked forward to.

As the food was passed we divided ourselves silently and with no ceremony into two groups, those who didn’t begin eating until each of the dishes was on their plates and those who ate the food as they served themselves from the passed platters.

The dinner was slow and calm and certainly abundant.   It ended with apple, pumpkin and mincemeat pies and whipped cream, and having consumed those we crowded into the living room to talk (another quaint custom) usually about politics.

I recall one particularly hot discussion in 1959 when my grandfather, a very active liberal, said he could not vote for a Catholic running for president.

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He did of course.

Thanksgiving is so much an American holiday that regions of the country have their own special dishes: Yams, oyster stew, cornbread, winter squashes, corn casserole, mac and cheese, wild rice, and creamed onions.

I would like to think that like my family, most people incorporate their own food traditions into their Thanksgiving; but I don’t know if this is so. Eun, Bread Furst’s manager and my partner, recalls turkey mandu at Thanksgiving and that her family’s turkey was accompanied by a stovetop stuffing that incorporated Korean glass noodles.

My family always made corn and tomatoes, a sweet and sour vegetable dish we always thought celebrates the autumn harvest, and creamed spinach; and like most Baltimoreans, we always ate sauerkraut at Thanksgiving because in 1863 when President Lincoln invented the holiday a large percentage of Baltimore’s population was German and sauerkraut was made part of the festival.

Celebrating Thanksgiving in restaurants is a comparatively recent innovation as this holiday has traditionally belonged in homes. From the point of view of one part of the food-making industry, it’s not such a bad thing.

Restaurants love to prepare Thanksgiving. Guests are cheerful and expectant, menus are limited and dinners start at Noon and don’t end until 10 PM. Ten solid hours of full houses. What more could a restaurant want?

It’s fun to look at the menus of so many restaurants in Washington that are preparing for next week: fois gras and sablefish at 701, oysters and duck breast at Fiola Mare, Chicory salad and turkey with cornbread stuffing at the Oval Room, Applewood ham at Clyde’s, farro salad with green beans and country ham at Siren.

Ashok Bajaj tells me that 701, his 24 year-old restaurant is going to prepare Thanksgiving dinner for 600 people. And that’s just one of the ten restaurants he owns.

Bread Furst, on the other hand, is a retail store and what we are preparing will be eaten in your homes on Thursday. Some of what we are going to be making, cranberry sauce, for example, can be made a few days in advance and indeed benefits from early production. But much of what we are offering, mashed potatoes for example, must be made as close as possible to the feasts. That is why we are open on Thanksgiving Day – so that those foods will, when they reach your tables, be fresh as well as the breads we’ll be making.

People who make foods for a living always balance two goals, to be consistent and to be creative.   Depending on their roles, they bend toward one or the other. Bread bakers are interested almost entirely in consistency; they are creative only occasionally. Pastry chefs, on the other hand, love to be creative.

But making 620 pies – that is what we are making this year – doesn’t leave much room for creativity. To do that much production in a small bakery like ours without doing it in advance and freezing it requires organization, long hours, discipline and lots of storage space. So we repress our creative impulses and focus on making good foods for Thanksgiving.

And that’s a good thing.

I remember with embarrassment one Thanksgiving many years ago when I decided to be creative and adapt our traditional dishes.  I suspect my siblings still remember my garlic cranberry sauce.

For me, ever since then at Thanksgiving tradition reigns.