I ate Lunch

What I saw: Lunch with Mrs. Gardenwinkle and her best friend Mrs. Triumph, at the Bedhead Hills Wasp and Skeet-Shoot Club

What I wore: I was warned in advance by Mrs. Gardenwinkle that the Bedhead Hills Wasp and Skeet-Shoot Club has a “no jeans” rule in the dining room, but I had a lesson scheduled after lunch so I wore my riding clothes, consisting of freshly cleaned tall dress boots (courtesy of the expert polishing skills of the Bacon Provider), safari tan full-seat Pikeur breeches, black long-sleeved Ralph Lauren polo shirt, new Ibex zippered cardigan sweater, Baker-plaid-trimmed barn coat, black and white check scarf.


What I did beforehand: baked bread (I made the dough the night before)
Why I went: A number of Mrs. Gardenwinkle‘s year-end tax items came to the house, and I mailed them to her at her new condo. In return, I got a nice card in the mail, with her thanks, and the invitation to join her and a friend for lunch; she had written her email address in cursive just before she signed off, suggesting I reply that way.

A hand-written card from the previous owner


Where I sat: in the seat I was offered, with the view of the covered patio and golf course

Things that were sad: my hosts greeted our server by his first name; his mechanical smile and polite reply reminded me of the obsequious servers at Busch’s Grove, back in the St. Louis I grew up in, where white people felt no obligation to pretend not to be paternalistic in their racism. 

Things that were funny: the wallpaper in the Ladies Lounge; listening to Mrs. Triumph and Mrs. Gardenwinkle talk about the Republican presidential candidates; the story of the homeless man in the Bedhead Hills Library 

Things that were not funny: See “Things that were funny” and “Things that were sad.”

What it is: I had a salad with grilled salmon on it. It was just the right size fillet and it was  perfectly cooked. The cookie was smallish but freshly baked so the chocolate was melted. The cappuccino was made by one of those do-it-all machines, topped with a bland froth of tasteless milk foam and a tell-tale brown dot of machine-drizzled espresso in the middle. 

Who should see it: I hope they invite me to something again. Mrs. Gardenwinkle isn’t much like my mom (her taste is more like my mom’s mom’s), but they’d be the same age if my mom was alive.

What I saw on the way home: cars and trucks and bare naked trees


What I forgot to tell you: It’s been bothering me for more than two weeks– something discussed at lunch but I couldn’t remember. Somehow it came out of the conversation about the Broadway smash-hit “Hamilton,” but I didn’t remember until yesterday. Mrs. Triumph was describing how to get tickets for a matinee, and Mrs. Gardenwinkle was saying that she’d heard it made sense to get the assisted hearing device because, “There are just so many words!” The topic then shifted to the ten dollar bill, with Hamilton’s picture on it, and the possibility of a new design with a woman on the ten or the twenty, and Mrs. Gardenwinkle said, with feeling, “It’s such nonsense! Why do they have to go and change who’s on the dollars!?”

I’ve been stewing about it ever since, wondering what might make the most convincing argument. I said nothing at the time, though I’d like a bill with an American woman on it, and I think when we get one I will go to the bank to get a whole stack of them, to give out as tips. 

All the Kinds of Tape

Space Tape

Electrical tape, masking tape.
Double-stick tape.
Duct tape. Adhesive tape. Clear tape. Packing tape. Strapping tape.
Marine grade vinyl tape. Self-adhesive tape.
Sandwich tape. Cake tape. Sushi tape. Flower tape. Rehab Tape.
Creepy Tape.
Hair Tape, that makes the up-do you envision stick together.
Stop Texting Me Tape.
Special treasure tape.
Endangered species tape.
Hard to articulate ideas tape.
Tape that holds people together. 
Tape that keeps your pants up. 
Tape that holds ideas together.
Tape that tells good jokes.
Tape that keeps the old dog from dying.
Tape that makes this easier to read.
Tape for re-sealing the yogurt container because you changed your mind.
Tape that changes the weather.
Tape that keeps pollutants out of the drinking water.
Second Chance Tape.
Tape that reminds people that Thomas Jefferson was a slave owner.
Tape that plays your favorite song when you really need to hear your favorite song.
Jewelry tape.
Resume tape (makes your random life experiences seem like there is a point!).
Tape for making outfits match even though they don’t really match.
Tape that inserts this story:
The next day, I gave the Bacon Provider a ride to his appointment, and went back to the closed fabric store for a second time.
They were closed again.
The sign said they should be open, but the door was locked, and the lights were off. I sat down on a bench on the corner and considered my options.
I heard a slight noise and a dark blur dashing into the store.
Rising and walking to the threshold, I peered in: dark with the door now wide open. The tiny fabric shop had shelves stuffed full of fabric bolts, and an uneven fence of upholstery fabrics, on rolls, all the way around the shop. 
I stepped in hesitantly. One fluorescent light flickered to life, and then another. I kept my eyes in an active scan of the topmost shelves, where I saw a variety of charming modern cotton fabrics. There was barely room to snake through the store and see everything and turn around without toppling over the long bolts. I stumbled over a set of drawers containing buttons. Another bank of lights came on.
Behind the counter, a woman made a phone call, inquiring about the possibility of getting more indigo batiks. “We could sell a lot of those,” she said into the phone, repeating it a couple of times. “Everybody’s looking for indigo batiks.”
I considered; I would be interested in some indigo batiks. My mother really liked them, too.
The woman in the shop had long black hair, scattered with white threads of gray, and eyebrows, drawn on, in two straight lines. I busied myself at the sale shelf, beginning to fret about the duration of my paid parking out front. I found a Japanese import, navy with small gray rabbits, and a bolt end that was promising, and carried my armload to the cutting table.
I had her attention, and described the yardages I wanted.
Suddenly there was another woman, exactly the same as the first, the same black hair with white threads of gray. Same drawn on eyebrows, in two straight lines. Did she walk in behind me? Materialize behind the counter? Emerge from under the table? There were two of them, a matched set. They cut at the same time, with two pairs of matching, very-sharp scissors, half-way across the width of the bolt in a fluid motion ending with a snip, and then turning it over and repeating. Synchronized.
I left with a hand-written receipt. I don’t know which one wrote it.
Tape that gives stories a point.
Rage prevention Tape.
Tape that makes a person tell the truth.
Tape that settles debts.
Tape that makes amends.
Tape that keeps the tank full.
Tape that brings back the dead.
Tape that gives you credit for the work no one ever acknowledged.
Tape to tape the shimmy and groan out of the elevator.
Tape that fixes broken furniture.
Vacation plans tape.
Tape that reminds you of the better qualities of people.
Invincible tape.
Relationship tape.
Tape for easing the pain of betrayal.
Tape for putting ornaments on the Christmas tree.
Excessive cleavage tape.
Bathrobe tape.
Experimental tape.
Do-over tape.
Tape for regrets.
Better Decisions Tape.
Gerrymandering tape.
Subway fare tape.
Decorative tape for creating ironic ambiance.
Tape for droughts.
Tape that makes an argument make sense.

Tape tape.

Forgotten Cookies Remembered

I’m not sure why I was interested in cooking as a kid, since I was not especially interested in eating anything other than Cap’n Crunch and was in no way interested in growing up, especially if it meant doing boring adult things like writing checks. I watched my dad do it, writing checks, and there was a ledger with columns and a lot of scribbling including the writing of numbers as words, in cursive. Why would you?
Another Guy with a Sign


My mother would not buy fluffy-spongey white bread, but she would buy Pepperidge Farm Toasting White and Thomas English Muffins, and Cap’n Crunch with Crunchberries. The way I ate it, three or four bowls at a sitting, in the middle of the day, with lots of 2% milk, was this: crunchberries first. I tolerated the slightly pink stain in the milk, and the tiny bits of floating crunchberry, despite hating all food that seemed to be a mixture of other foods, like pizza or lasagna or really any casseroles at all.  

Mostly, I guess I wanted to be able to make cookies, because my mother was in the basement making silk-screen prints for the art fair and didn’t do things like make cookies. So I figured out how to make cookies. There was a recipe ON THE BAG of chocolate chips. I even figured out how to walk to Schnucks, across Hanley Road, to buy chocolate chips, how to crack and separate eggs, and that vanilla is the most magical of substances in a tiny brown bottle.

Forgotten Cookies Recipe:

Just before bed, preheat oven to 375F. Beat two egg whites until stiff. Add a pinch of salt and ½ t. cream of tartar; beat in ¾ c. white sugar until glossy. Add a splash of vanilla extract and fold in 1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips.

Drop by small spoonfuls onto foil-lined cookie sheet. Place in oven, and turn it off. Cookies are ready in the morning.

Around 1975, I made forgotten cookies once a week to sell at the weekly junior high school bake sales; we were raising money for a spring break trip to France.  I still have not been back to France, but I did go and I ate two new things there: yogurt and croissants. I recall hearing my mother grumble about the cost of a bag of chocolate chips and the labor involved in making forgotten cookies and making a cash donation instead, but I enjoyed making them and carrying them to school in a wax-paper-lined shoebox.

If I made them as regularly now as I did then, I would use superfine granulated sugar, and I’d make mayonnaise by hand with the leftover yolks (unless I gave them to the dogs), and I’d use those tiny chocolate chips, and I’d experiment with finely chopped pecans.  Let me know if you have your own variations.

Raisins

 Raisin

There are people who really won’t eat a raisin. I’ve never seen them object to a grape, or a glass of wine, or a sun-dried tomato, but the raisin inspires a gag of revulsion from some people, two of them my raisin-hating relatives.

There are other shriveled foods, like, as I said, the tasty sun-dried tomato or the sugar-coated pretender the Craisin® or beef jerky or apricot fruit leather. Raisins, usually being almost black, do have the both shriveled appearance and the blackness to surmount. The blackness of raisins means that they might appear to be an errant rock or burnt bit, and makes them easy to identify and pick out. They are minimally processed and so lack the uniformity of beloved foods, like the shapely whip and twist of RedVines® (all the same length), or the sculptability of mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese, or the colored domes of the trendy fancy macarons or even old school Fig Newtons or Oreos or any doughnuts really. Perfect, uniform food appeals to the particular palate and the infantile. “No,” screams the toddler, “I want it the SAME.”

So raisins. Wrinkly. Shriveled. Black. Big ones, small ones, occasionally long ones. Sometimes in one of those tiny boxes of Sun-Maid™ raisins you get one that’s shrunken to the point of seeming a first cousin of gravel. Not so nice. Lots of little kids hate them, though a few little kids recognize that raisins are mostly sugar in a little black chewy shrunken nubbin. The rest pick them out of oatmeal cookies, pick them off of otherwise gooey and completely delicious cinnamon rolls, and leave them on the table, on the napkin, in their hair, on their clothes, on the side of the plate, on the floor for the dog. The dog will eat the raisins, though grapes and raisins and onions and chocolate are all pretty toxic for dogs. Dogs don’t care. Dogs are happy to eat toxic things. If a toddler drops it, or a ten year old drops it, or an adult sneaks it under the table, a dog will eat it.
They put raisins in the traditional Moroccan tagine at Barbes, a midtown New York City restaurant. This place is a few blocks from the temporary apartment we moved to when we first got to New York, and so we ate there a few times and had a lovely meal even when they lost their Grade A and had to be Grade Pending and then even spent a few weeks as Grade B. These things happen. We kept going there, the Maître D’ kept opening the door to us, we kept ordering couscous and scalding hot sweet mint tea that they pour from as high up as they can reach and oh so delicious traditional tagine. But when my sister in law–a real live adult who saves people’s fucking lives—came to town and we met up with her there, she wouldn’t eat anything that might have raisins in it. I don’t even know how she knew to ask.
I think raisins are offered to young children and that is where the revulsion begins. My solution when my children were young and I still did things like bake cookies on a regular basis was to use golden raisins that are softer and lovelier and easily disguised within the texture of an oatmeal cookie.  But people will still ask, “Do these have RAISINS in them?”
I think the main problem that raisins have is the apparent consensus of their peers: most little kids hate raisins, and will complain about raisins being in things, and once the crowd has declared itself anti-raisin, that’s it.  They’re wrong, of course. Raisins are yummy. Oh well, more for me.

Half Japanese

On the left is a weekender’s house, like a tree-house built on piers and usually seems empty. Their grass is mowed infrequently and mostly has tassels on top. Parked on the driveway and shrouded in a car cover is one of those mini-SUVs that are popular in Westchester.  On the right is the colonial, like a life-size doll-house, with a pool and a two-car garage and two girls in the local school. Their grass is short and plush and uniform like a golf course.  Our grass is tended to by a team hired by the landlords, and is a mixture of manicured and wild.
A few weeks back we woke up to a hot, humid morning and it quickly went from “too hot” to “much too hot” to the kind of hot that elicits groans. The dogs were walked perfunctorily, up the driveway past the doll-house and the tree-house and down the driveway again. It was the birthday of the youngest boy, and a not insignificant one at 15. He had planned his camp sessions around being home for this birthday. What did he ask for? Not a thing. He was asked and again and again, before, during and after his trip to camp, and his answer was always, “I’ll think about it.”
Azuma Sushi in Hartsdale
In the end, we had a quiet day, to the extent that an afternoon punctuated by a thunderstorm is quiet, and a bustling early evening: losing internet when it was most needed for research, racing to the art supply store 40 minutes away before they closed, almost running out of gas, finding a gas station where none of the pumps worked, picking up the Medium Cheese at a Different train station, circling round and round in a vain effort to park, having to call the restaurant to let them know we’d be late. Finding good food near North Dreadful sometimes means compromising on either proximity or quality, and on birthdays that seems unfair. So we put on smiles when we sat down for sushi in Hartsdale.
Back in the 80s when we lived in Burlington, Vermont, we ate at Sakura on Church Street almost once a week. Before then, neither of us had ever had sushi, but a friend worked there who taught us what to eat and how to eat it. Since then, we typically find a favorite sushi place wherever we live, and eat there regularly.
In Seattle it was Aoki, at the top of Broadway. Of course there is the over-the-top Nishino on Madison for special occasions, but for the weekly Japanese food feed we preferred Aoki. The very first time we ate there, it was a hot summer day in Seattle and we were looking for cold air-conditioning.  Aoki has some decorating quirks, including benches that seem to be made from sample pieces of laminate and a framed rising sun flag.  Sometimes we would surprise them by showing up with extra people or with fewer when kids went off to college, but they always recognized us and greeted us warmly.
Last summer in mid-town we ate at a couple of different sushi places, finally settling on one where the giggly wait-staff summoned up the courage after a great deal of consultation with her co-workers to ask one of us if he was half-Japanese.

We order a lot of food when we go, and we eat it all.  My favorite sushi story of all though involves the time the Medium Cheese and his not-half-Japanese son went to sushi while the rest of us were out of town. They ordered all the usual things, in all the usual quantities, and realized, as they struggled to finish, that the two of them together had eaten as much as they normally eat with two or three more people helping.
 

Vox

We did manage to eat at Vox a few nights later.  Tucked into a dip in the road at the intersections of Route 121 and Route 116 in North Dreadful, this well-loved French restaurant is our go-to choice when we think “Let’s go out-to-dinner.”
This is the kind of French restaurant with escargot on the menu, attentive and thoughtful wait staff, and an owner who greets you as you come in and takes your coat to hang it up. If our experiences at Vox are typical of restaurants in France, then maybe I need to go live in France. We are greeted so warmly every time we go to Vox,  I can’t tell if this is how they greet everyone or if it is that my husband, the Medium Cheese, is memorable, and in that case  because he is distinctive-looking or because he looks like a celebrity. In some circles, he is a bit of a celebrity. It may simply be that the owner knows that when you are a Medium Cheese, you like it when people welcome you like you are a Big Cheese. Really, Big Cheeses come from somewhere.
On the left, actor John Stamos. On the right, Otto Berkes.
After they seat you, they bring you a small bowl of popcorn seasoned with truffle salt, and they do not assault you with a menu until you’ve had the chance to settle in, give a drink order, and adjust to the leisurely pace of proper dining. By complying with these ground rules, we are always cajoled into several courses plus dessert. When you live wait out here in Northern Westchester County, you cannot possibly be in a hurry in the evening because there is no place to go but home.
We have eaten dinners at Vox with large parties, just our family, and just the two of us. Once I left my purse on my chair and had to go back for it after I had driven everyone home. It was still on my chair. Another time, a table nearby was full of increasingly inebriated equestrians, loudly sharing the vivid details of stories about getting away with drunken driving, among other things.  Eavesdropping in this situation was unavoidable. As I recall, we left before they did.
Acoustic panels on the ceiling at Vox means it’s not too loud
Salads and entrees change with the seasons, as they should. We usually get oysters and they never disappoint. In addition to escargot, they offer French onion soup with melted gruyere and real Caesar salad, musse4ls grilled fish, steak, veal, duck, Croque-Monsieur, and even a burger worth mentioning. For dessert we have ordered tarte-tatin, molten chocolate cake, crème brulee, cheesecake, and bread pudding. I do not recall ever being even the slightest bit disappointed by any dish we were served in any way. I also do not recall any particular dish standing out as exceptional. I believe the reason for this is the superlative attentiveness of the staff, the perfection of the timing of the arrival of dishes, and the remarkably excellent wines they offer by the glass. Vox delivers all this at prices that are in the “nice restaurant” range, rather than the “incredibly nice restaurant” range.
Before we move to Manhattan full time in early September, I am sure we will eat there once or twice again. I won’t have the heart to tell them it will be our last visit, or that they have been the most consistent, least dreadful thing about living here.

The Bissell House

The Bissell House Restaurant
Last Tuesday night we headed over to Vox, one of the two other restaurants in North Dreadful, only to find it closed. We forget that in this sleepy little town the only way small business owners can have lives is to do things like be closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Undeterred, we continued along Route 116 which crosses into Connecticut. I get haircuts and pet food in Connecticut and the Ridgefield area reminds me of parts of suburban St. Louis, where I grew up. I was pretty sure that on the main street in Ridgefield we would find an open restaurant.
Hand Stretched
House Made
Mozzarella
and Tomato Salad
The Bissell House offers outdoor seating and a busy little platoon of young wait staff. I believe that during our meal we were helped by no less than seven different servers, all of them trim, young, forgettable and slightly confused.  The server who took our order had not yet mastered the art of making a subtle expression of comprehension when taking the order, and I found myself reading her the entire name of the dish and pointing at the menu at the same time. I actually said, while pointing, “I’ll have the ‘Hand Stretched House Made Mozzarella and Tomato Salad,’ please.” I also had a fish dish off the sheet of specials: Arctic Char wrapped in something served over rice and broccoli and a bed of stir-fry veggies which turned out to be a mix of 20% I-don’t-know-maybe-squash and 80% julienned red bell pepper.
Ah, the bell pepper.
Bell peppers are so beautiful and colorful and this time of year they are plentiful. From home cooks to fancy restaurants people put bell peppers in salads and all sorts of dishes without bothering to mention that they are there. It only takes a little bit of raw or cooked bell pepper to make me quite sick to my stomach, beginning with tingling sensation in my mouth, followed by heartburn (and worse), and sometimes it lasts for a few days. It took me years of mysterious stomach aches to finally realize the cause. As long as they have not been pulverized, I can usually pick out the peppers, but I never order anything that features them as a main ingredient.
Arctic char tastes just like salmon
I must admit that I have been known to say I am “allergic to Connecticut,” and I sometimes go out of my way not to go there. This “allergy” is based on no specific event (like fifteen years of mysterious stomach pain), and I can say emphatically that I have met a lot of very nice and interesting people who live or work in Connecticut. I can say that in Connecticut drivers come to a complete stop at the end of the ramp to get onto the freeway, and all by itself this is a reason for folks who drive in the other 49 United States might want to avoid it.  
I will let you know if I manage to tease out what specific ingredient of Connecticut brings on the crushing malaise. It is certainly not unrelated to the fact that parts of it look like parts of where I grew up. Meanwhile, I have signed a lease on a New York City apartment and will be moving about half of our possessions into it on Monday.
The good news at the Bissell House was that I had room for dessert, even after a salad and a large piece of fish. We shared three flavors of chocolate cookie ice cream sandwiches. I think they were ok.