View across The Thames rivals some of the artwork… (at Tate Modern Gardens)
The American Southwest in late summer?? Good God, it’s 10pm and it’s still fucking roasting. What was I thinking exploring this part of the world in the heat of summer?
For better or worse, I’m road-trippin’ to an antiques show in the Hill Country of eastern Texas, hoping to find a few treasures for my shop, Heritage Culinary Artifacts in Napa Valley.
I decided to tuck into Palm Springs for the first evening,
after a day spent behind the wheel, sticking to the leather seats in my German tank and watching the temperature climb well over 100°. There is a certain shabbiness to Palm Springs that’s oddly alluring. The peaceful Korakia Pensione is situated at the base of a mountain, a few blocks off the main drag. Casual and quiet, the hotel is reminiscent of Morocco, with stone courtyards, afternoon mint tea service, and brilliant pink bougainvillea flowers spilling into the pools.
Each evening, the staff lights the many outdoor fireplaces, lanterns and fire pits, their glow reflecting off the pools and splashing fountains.
I set a clumsy dinner table on the patio in the piping desert air; pulling the cork on a chilled bottle of old red Burgundy I brought along, opening containers of garlicy broccoli and greasy duck ordered from a near-by Chinese joint, and staring up at the purple-black sky.
The next morning, I made the rounds at a few galleries, known for their exceptional mid-century modern design. As one former Palm Springs aficionado sang in 1961, Ring-a-ding-ding!!
What better for my first find than a terra cotta wild boar terrine? In flawless condition, this fierce beauty’s head comes off completely, making it the ideal vessel for rich stews, hearty soups and ragùs made with said swine. Measures 16” in length, from head to snout. $265
A dozen crystal salts once graced a fine dining table in a modernist house in Palm Springs. How did I get my hands on them, you ask? Twelve pieces, each unique and all in wonderful condition. Set ($325) A very handsome, double-sided, cast iron pot rack with an Art Deco aesthetic. Hang with chains to accommodate your copper skillets, garlic braids, poorly behaved children, and pepper bunches. American, early 1900s. Measures 48” in length. ($1150)
I gassed up for the day ahead (gulp…$4.55 a gallon!!).
I’m always surprised at how quickly time passes on the road. Sometimes I gab on the phone to old friends, sometimes I listen to local radio, (always highly entertaining in rural areas). Sometimes Maria Callas or David Sedaris keep me company. But mostly the time is spent in silence, wrestling my inner voices or merely staring at the passing countryside.
I pushed onto Tucson, Arizona; the day’s highlights included passing Sore Finger Road, watching the thermometer reach 118°, and listening to a Willie Nelson-athon. A couple of hours before sunset, I gratefully pulled into Ventana Canyon Resort, nestled against the base of Tucson’s Santa Catalina Mountains. My grandparents, Manga and Gimpa, used to bring me to this lovely, deco-inspired hotel, allowing me to sip scotch and smoke cigarettes with them in the lounge, its enormous windows framing the mountains.
I recalled feeling so mature during my under-aged visits with them. My nostalgia was short-lived as I was melting from the heat. I stripped off my sticky sundress and quickly located the enormous pool, kept delightfully cooler than the air. I floated for a good hour, watching the swallows emerge from their nests to refresh themselves in the waters, while the darkening silhouettes of thousands of saguaro cacti on the mountains waved their prickly green arms at me. Braving a hot wind, I sat outside for dinner at the hotel’s Flying V Restaurant, requesting the bartender choose a good tequila from his impressive list, and serve it neat. The waiter prepared a large earthenware bowl of guacamole tableside (extra jalapeño, please) and served it with thick, salty chips. Divine. I awoke early to hike magestic Sabino Canyon, only to be told that it was closed. The state worried about a repeat of the wildfires that had plagued the northern part of the state all summer. Instead, a sobering swim and a cup of shitty Lipton tea before visiting a couple of AZ antique dealers.
Fashioned from brass and antler, this bottle opener sits well in the hand. Clearly, the artisan who made this put a good deal of thought into its creation. The dragon’s head opens the bottle and the tail sports a carved brass flourish. A fine piece measuring 9” in length. ($85)
My eye caught this wonderful set of mother of pearl-handled cheese knives. In very fine condition with lustrous handles and sterling silver ferrules. San Francisco, 1940s-1950s. Set of six ($145) Given the fact that Mexico was only a stone’s throw away, I assumed I’d find many wonderful examples of Mexican pottery. Instead, I found only one superb piece: a figural covered terrine. This chicken makes me smile everytime I spy her! Hand painted with vivid colors and in great condition, she measures 9” long, 7” wide and 7” tall. Mexico, 1930s-1940s ($210)
Departing Arizona and continuing eastward, I watched as the sun set over west Texas in my rear view mirror. It was now just the truckers (God bless ‘em) and me. I hate driving at night. Getting old. I stopped earlier at The Rib Hut (you can’t beat their meat!) in El Paso and took-away a rack of pork ribs and a pint of cole slaw, the latter of which appears to serve as a vegetable in these parts. I got a room at the Van Horn Best Western Motel, parking right outside my door. Hauled in my overnight bag, the ribs and ‘salad’, and a bottle of wine. I always bring along a couple (or four) bottles of wine on a road trip, particularly if the area is not known for its gastronomic largess. “What kinda dressin’ you want on that iceberg, sweetie?” But truly? I brought red wine to Texas in the blaze of summer? What was I thinking about? The Pinots I brought were all seeping, a sure sign the bottles got too warm and the wine expanded, forcing out their corks. I filled my room’s wastebasket at the ice machine and plunged a warm Boillot Volnay deep into an icy bath. I was hoping the 14-year old wine was mature enough to be nicely lean and acidic and any warmth from its car-cookin’ would only lend to a more supple mouthfeel. But it truly didn’t matter. I was gonna chill the shit out of it anyway. I cranked the ancient AC to its highest setting and turned on the television. What luck! Valentino, The Last Emperor was playing; a wonderfully entertaining documentary about the Italian clothing designer and his VERY high-flying life.
I’m watching this imperious, talented little man dress a very tall, very thin Italian model in swaths of silk… while I’m sitting in a motel room in some Texas town, sweaty and half-naked, eating ribs with my sticky fingers and drinking cooked wine out of a plastic cup, its bottle chilling in a garbage basket. Early the next morning, I went looking for breakfast, asking a local for his recommendation.
"Waaaall, little lady, I think you can git a coupla them breakfast burritos at the Conoco station up thar street.” Lucky for me, I spied a row of pick-up trucks parked outside a large log cabin with a long porch. I scored a breakfast of strong, black coffee and homemade biscuits with fresh, salty whipped butter and Texas honey squeezed from a bear. Gassing up for the last of the ride at a small pump in a decrepit station, an enormous truck open to the sun and filled with two stories of bleating lambs pulled in next to me. Were they coming or going? I spent the day driving, watching for small tornedos of sand in the far, high desert hills, and listening to a pensive Tracy Chapman and the exuberant Franz Liszt. The Texas antique shows were great fun, displaying wonderful early Americana and a mix of industrial and European design.
Hunting and fishing are big pursuits in Texas. This superb metal match keeper and match strike is designed after a fishing creel or basket. American, late 1800s - early 1900s. Fine condition, measuring 5” in length and 3.5” across ($285)
Scored from an older woman who specialized in early Americana and primitives, this cookie press was originally used to produce cookies for weddings and religious ceremonies. In two pieces: the base was used for rolling dough and top is quite heavy; it’s weighted to create the indentation. Highly unusual and well done; a rare piece in wonderful condition. Measuring 16” diameter. American 1820-1830s. ($645) Living in Napa Valley surrounded by the fruit of the vine, I am always looking for fine grape shears. Produced by artisans in the late 1800s during The Victorian period, grape scissors were very popular, as it was considered poor manners to touch food with one’s hands. Quite fittingly, London’s Victoria & Albert Museum notes: “With a few exceptions (such as for eating bread and some fruit), touching food with the fingers was frowned upon, and diners were presented with an alarming and growing range of specialist utensils for eating particular foods. It was important to be able to recognize items such as nut picks, sardine tongs and grape scissors, and to know how to use them correctly.” These wonderful grape scissors are made from high quality silver plate. In superlative condition. ($210)
Hot, famished, and tired of shopping and shlepping, I took an early Saturday evening supper at the Gold n’ Crisp Fried Chicken Shack.
Two perfectly cooked, heavenly plump breasts - meaty, succulent and piping hot from the fryer - were indecently (shield your eyes, kids!) consumed at an immaculate picnic bench painted bright white, and accompanied by an unsweetened iced tea with loads of lemon.
As the last bites were savored in the languid heat while overlooking the train tracks and a lush cemetery, I realized this fried chicken meal will now be my benchmark for all others. Drove to Austin and met up with my travel mate, who graciously agreed to do the return trip with me. Before the long ride home, we holed up for a few days at the sleek, minimal Hotel San Jose in the heart of this funky city. Spent the first evening together cooling ourselves in the small pool hidden by towers of bamboo, while sipping from a tall pitcher of icy sangria loaded with fruit, and giggling until late. Austin yielded some fabulous finds:
This beer stein is highly unusual with amazing detailing. One one side reads “Gaudeamus Igitur” meaning “So Let Us Rejoice”. The opposite side reads “Juvenesdum Sumus” meaning “While we are Young”, a familiar refrain sung at University and penned in the early 18th century. Measures 8.5” across and 6.5” tall. Germany, early part of the 1900s ($425) This set of carved wood bowls, each with carved bull’s head on legs supporting the bowls, screams Texas! The large mixing bowl measures 13” diameter and the five smaller bowls measure 6” diameter each. For mixing steak tartare or a salad with equal aplomb! Texas, mid 1900s. Set of six pieces ($65)
Lunch included a drive to Lockhart, TX, landing at Smitty’s BBQ, the stuff of legends (as I reminded my travel mate, a former vegetarian). It was well over 100° at high noon as we sauntered through the swinging screen doors, taking a moment to allow our eyes to focus in the dark hallway. The smell of smoke enveloped us as we took in the scene: a dark, cavernous space housing a meat market, a butchering room, and several fires blazing on the brick floors, each with a its own smoke box filled with Flinstone-like hunks of meat and tended to by burly men. The entire back lot was covered in neatly stacked, aged firewood. Waiting in line near one of the smoldering pits, I was reminded of Dante’s blazing misery. But if this was hell, it wasn’t like the Sisters of Divine Providence explained it.
The aromas were powerful: wood, smoke, roasted meat, sweet spices, dark earth, sweat. The lady at the register took our order for a slab of pork ribs, which were split to order with a large cleaver, tossed onto a big rip of butcher paper, and weighed on a meat scale.
We took our prized lunch into their brightly lit cafeteria, blessedly air-conditioned, and found a couple of free seats. Armed with a handful of napkins and unsweetened iced teas, we sat and ate every damn morsel off those long, lovely, dry-rubbed bones. It was a very fine and singularly Texan experience.
Leaving the very hip art community of Marfa, TX one early morning, we pulled up to a border patrol, manned by Homeland Security and complete with German shepherd; a rather unnerving site common in the state. The dog must have smelled something emanating from my bug-splattered car, as he went wild.
We were told to pull over and step out of the car, now brimming with antiques. We sat on a small bench, watching the yapping dog and a large Federal officer dig through my car. Of course, the dog went right for my toiletry bag, where I had buried a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency travel joint.
“I’m gonna slap the shit out of you,” hissed my road-mate. I don’t know if the guy found the joint and decided to look the other way so as not to tie himself up in endless paperwork over something so insignificant – or he genuinely missed it, but we were eventually waved on. Of course, in order to calm our nerves, we both smoked that last spliff on our way out of town, burying the roach remains in the high Texas desert.
If any of the treasures in this newsletter move you, write to me. May I be of assistance? Contact me directly at email@example.com and I would be very pleased to discuss details.
Please know each items is unique and one-of-a-kind, so when they’re gone, they are gone.
I will do my best to fulfill your wishes.
Until next time.
I pressed my brow against the cab’s window as we departed the airport, cooling my head; the cabbie’s music an auditory introduction, helping me to acclimate to my new surroundings. Several glasses of Pommery Champagne at 20,000 feet lessened the joylessness of air travel; the overnight flight already a hazy memory. A city bus crammed tight with evening commuters idled next to us, announcing my location: Cidade de São Paulo, Brasil. The third largest city in the world, São Paulo is now home to more than 20 million people and thriving economic growth. While the city’s greenery was minimal, the low, gray concrete buildings throughout the city were tagged with colorful, expressive graffiti. My guttural Spanish would be of no assistance shopping here as Portuguese is the national tongue. I’m hoping to find a whole host of goodies for my shop in Napa Valley, Heritage Culinary Artifacts. My mouth was agape as the car pulled up to Hotel Unique, our home for the next several days. Visually stunning, the architecture was crafted by Brazilian Ruy Ohtake, known for his dynamic and highly original design. The half-moon shaped building brings to mind a modern day Noah’s arc, set afloat in a sea of succulents and rock-lined tributaries: moonscape landscaping.
The hotel boasts a highly contemporary lobby bar situated against an enormous wall of glass. A welcome respite from the humidity, the afternoon rains pounded the towering glass wall, its deluge deafening. The restaurant lies on the arc’s roof, providing incredible views of the entire metropolis. Just beyond the quiet modernity of the dining room is a sun soaked deck and pool, vibrating with techno music night and day, and is stacked three deep most evenings; bronzed Brazilians in tall heels and short dresses and men with smooth, dark chests in white shirts mixing it up. Our room was a joyful expression of the modern: lots of wood and white. With the flick of a button, the wall pulled back to reveal a large, round window – an eye opening onto the expanse of the park below and the city beyond. As I stripped off my putrid airplane clothes and slipped on a sundress, my first thoughts turned to food. I made my way to the opposite side of this ginormous city, locating Paulistano Mercado Municipal, known simply as Mercadão. Stall after stall displays unusual South American fruits, fresh fish, cheeses, spices and thrillingly hot peppers. I grabbed a stool at Hocca Bar (www.hoccabar.com.br), buried in the center of the Market. Established in 1952, this tiny joint is famed for its pastéis de bacalhau, fried pastry pockets stuffed with salt cod. Here, the cod’s flavor is not dumbed down with the usual addition of potato, but its fishy goodness highlighted with a sprinkling of chopped onions and parsley. Shared condiments of fiery Molho de pimenta, Brazilian sea-salt and good quality Portuguese olive oil are slathered onto the delicately fried pocket. An iced-cold local brew, Bavaria beer, is a perfect foil to the salty-good, fiery heat. Divine in its simplicity and a steal at 13 reais. I walked part of the way back to Hotel Unique, in hopes of finding a couple of treasures.
My first find was a highly decorative cast iron nutcracker with a copper overlay. Marked Lilium on the inner handles, the piece is double riveted: the smaller rivets at the top are for smaller nuts, while the larger ones below accommodate walnuts. A well-done and expressive lion’s head adorns both of the outer sides. The piece is heavy and measures 6.75” high and 1.5” across. ($65)
This incredible character preaches one thing: Temperance! Equal parts compelling and eerie, this delicate porcelain set is comprised of a figural liquor bottle and six goblets, which sit on a round tray. Made in Germany in the early 1900s. The bottle measures 8.25” by 4”; the goblets are 1.75”; and the tray is 9” in diameter. ($1850)
These glass jars were originally used to store herbs in an apothecary. Each has a tightly fitting glass stopper and they are all in marvelous condition. The glass dates to the turn-of-the-century One jar: $85 Three jars: $225 Six jars: $465
Japanese restaurants abound, as São Paulo is home to the largest population of Japanese outside of the isle of Japan. I truly scored, as I positively adore the culture-rich cuisine. But I overdid it. Awaiting our 10:30pm dinner reservation at a Japanese restaurant, we stopped into a neighboring bar for a cocktail. The bartender insisted he made the best caipirinhas in town. Would you accept a drink from this man?
Muddled fresh fruit, two heaping scoops of sugar, and a hefty shot of Cachaça, Brazil’s beloved liquor, made for a sweet and powerful concoction. One cocktail and I was hammered. A short walk to the restaurant did little to sober me, and the sugar blast made me super ravenous. A gorgeous Japanese woman in Christian Louboutin stilettos led us up the stairs to the dining room. It was crowded and dark and there was an oil lamp on the table that smelled surprisingly noxious. We sat and I ordered. And ordered. An additional table had to be pulled up next to us to accommodate all of the beautiful foods and sake that arrived. We barely made a dent in the sushi hand rolls, sashimi platter with fresh wasabi, seared squid, wakame salad, and an enormous platter of the best shrimp and vegetable tempura I have ever eaten. My dinner companion has forever banned me from ordering in a Japanese restaurant. And now, whenever I’m in danger of overdoing it (as is so often the case), the code word ‘tempura’ is muttered, immediately yanking me back onto more moderate ground.
The following day, I roamed the posh Jardim district, heavy with fancy boutiques, galleries and restaurants. Brazilian brand Cris Barros, known for its surfwear, cater to the legion of board riders the world over who visit Brazil for its superb waves. And judging from the hundreds of shops given over to unusual footwear, it was easy to deduce Brazilian ladies lusted for architecturally splendid shoes. The Brazilian boutique Osklen provided me with a decidedly less lady-of-the-night pair of funky lace-up sneakers to soothe my bedraggled dogs, tired from traipsing the city. Artistic expression is everywhere you turn: tucked in between two buildings was an outdoor space devoted to Post-It art in the neon shades. Outrageously good.
Just up the street, I had a café freddo in Italian-inspired Cafe Santo Grão. The short glass of iced espresso, sugar and lemon was the ideal boost to brave the humid afternoon and a bit more shopping.
Imagine my thrill at finding a very fine F. Dick knife? This German company (est. 1778) has been making high-quality butchering knives, cleavers and tools since 1889. This butchering masterpiece dates to the turn-of-the-century and has a sturdy handle with a warm, rich chestnut patina. The carbon steel blade is solid, sharp and well cared for. Measures 16” in length. ($225)
I am not usually drawn to Chinese porcelain, unless the colors are truly outstanding. These sweet-meat dishes are a fine particularly joyful expression of Chinese art. The colors are deep and vivid and the long legged egret in the center is surrounded by flowers. Pictured is a top and a bottom. Each measures 10.5” long and 7.5” across. All in very good condition and dating to the mid-late 1800s. (Set of six $745)
The cow reigns supreme here, as Brazilians love their beef. São Paulo is rife with steakhouses, many of them serving cuts from cows raised in the famed hills of neighboring Argentina.I lucked upon this highly detailed cow bank from the early 1900s. Measuring 10.5”, this is an exceptionally heavy iron piece with a bronze overlay. ($345) Another late supper lie ahead. I had read about Restaurant D.O.M. and was excited to check it out. Could only score 10:45pm reservations, so we perused a neighboring bookshop, skipping the pre-dinner caipirinhas. D.O.M. is an acronym for the Latin expression “Deo Optimo Maximo”, (God is optimum in wisdom and maximum in forgiveness). The expression was later applied by the Roman Catholic Church to the Benedictine monks, famous for preparing food using only the very best ingredients available. Hottie Brazilian Chef Alex Atala, the culinary God of São Paulo, adopted the not-so-humble name for his formal dining room.
And it was divine.A salad of tomato and watermelon celebrates the ripe end of summer, while an earthy broth of mushrooms, floating with mysterious funghi, heralds the oncoming autumn. Hearty Amazonian fish, sautéed to just barely cooked, was toothsome and served with local grains. A young Châteauneuf du Pape finally began to unravel just as the plates were cleared, but I took solace knowing the last of the bottle would be sensational with dessert, recalling the plate of small, sweet delectables I spied on the way to our table. While I’m a late eater from way back, my dining companion is more in the ‘not for me’ category; head nodding toward tablecloth come midnight. I had to ask for the check…. and before the fucking mignardises arrived. Eyes opened early to locate the Sunday Antiquities Market, held outside at The Art Museum of São Paulo, known locally as MASP (MAHS-pee). This striking concrete and glass behemoth is without a ground floor. Instead, four huge pillars jack up the building; the heaviness of the Brutalist-style made light by its loft. In its massive shadow, the outdoor market yielded treasures of all kinds.
I’m a sucker for local folk art, no matter where I travel. I found this egg basket from a dealer specializing in Brazilian folk pieces from 1920s-1930s. With mesh handles and iron flourishes, this chicken is a true delight. ($185)
How fun are the Japanese? The naughty Japanese porcelain pieces I seek out date to the 1940s and this girl is one fine example. Her toes are even polished! Salt and pepper, anyone? ($95) Cloches are always so hard to find and always look so great on a table or counter. I use them to cover cheeses, resting cuts of meat and to hang the walls. These two very unusual tin cloches have handles to grab and hooks to hang. Early 1900s. Larger 16” ($210) Smaller 12” ($165)
Ravenous for lunch and spent from shopping, I walked into the last seating for a solo lunch at Dalva e Dito, hottie Chef Alex Atala’s more casual dining room. As soon as I was seated, the table was laid with small bowls: various dips and assorted peppers whose heat made me warm with pleasure. On every table is also placed a large orange tin of butter, Manteiga de Primeira Qualidade. Good Lord, it was so yellow and rich and good that I tracked down several tins to take home. The young waiter practiced his English in earnest, tasting me on a regional specialty, Priprioca, an Amazonian root that yields a syrup reminiscent of patchouli and pot, making me instantly long for my stash left far behind in California. It’s weird: everyone drinks soda here. Cans of Coke and the national orange soda abomination Laranja litter tables in both casual cafes and serious restaurants alike. A platter of pork arrived, which had roasted slowly for two days: succulent inside and crispy outside. It was accompanied with ‘smashed potatoes’ the color of lemon curd; infused with picau, an unusual Brazilian fruit. There was a refreshing lack of music in the dining room; the sound of families enjoying a weekend lunch together and the clatter of silverware bouncing off the high ceiling providing the only acoustics. Completely sated, I shuffled languidly in the late afternoon heat, ducking into two more shops.
Clearly, someone enjoyed a post-dinner smoke enough to have this highly unusual pipe handmade by an artisan. Crafted from ivory and 18K gold, the pipe measures 5” in length. This is a very fine and unique piece. ($750) Wild boar head?? I had to have it!! Made of rubber and wood, this ferocious looking devil was created as an advertising sign in the 1940s and measures 22” from head to snout and 10” across. ($585)
There is a distinct rhythm to São Paulo. Music plays everywhere. Oddly, I heard very little Brazilian music. Instead, emanating from every cab, every shop, in the lobby of every hotel, and every fine dining room was funky, techno-driven house music, with the occasional American pop tune. With a few hours before our flight departed Brazil, we lunched at Kaa. The restaurant’s façade is an enormous, non-descript door situated on a busy thoroughfare. Walking into the dining room is to enter a different world. Soaring and airy, the room is an indulgence in modernity, complete with retractable ceiling, wood finishes, and leather furnishings. The eye-candy is a massive living wall with more than 7,000 live plants. A bottle of mature Soave accompanied hand-pulled cheeses and baby lettuces, a plate of house-made salumi, and fresh tagliatelle with a ragú of mushrooms and rabbit. Dark chocolate and berries and short shots of espresso jolted us back into the blinding sunlight. No revenge better for a long, cattlecar-like plane ride than by boarding with a stomach full of wonderful food and good wine. São Paulo is brimming with wonderful surprises. The warmth and hospitality of its inhabitants, the appreciation for art and beauty, the cutting-edge modern architecture and design, and the richness and diversity of its cuisine made for a highly memorable trip. If any of the items in this newsletter move you, write to me. May I be of assistance? Contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org and I would be very pleased to discuss details. Please know each items is unique and one-of-a-kind, so when they’re gone, they are gone. I will do my best to fulfill your wishes. Until next time.
The first day in London poured cold rain, making it highly pleasurable to spend the day in bed, lazily acclimating to the time change. The second day finds me venturing out into a breathtakingly cold, clear day - completely bundled for winter. Now only slightly jetlagged, but still in desperate need of strong, short coffee and a buttery croissant, I tuck into a communal table at Monmouth, the wonderfully rustic (read: lots of old wood and iron) coffee bar in London’s Borough Market. Wrapped in their tweeds and caps against the city’s deep chill, dozens of Brits are escaping their offices to join me for a late-morning caffeine hit. The coffee bar’s barn doors are always wide open to the market beyond, which now proudly exhibits winter produce from across Europe. A typically patient queue snakes out the door from Neal’s Yard, it’s counters piled high with winter cheeses. Stalls with cured salumi from Seville, fresh bread from Paris’ Pouliane, and jars of spicy Indian chutneys are set alongside butcher’s stands, now dense with hanging birds, winking pigs, and fat, furry rabbits from the English countryside.
Fueled and considerably warmer, I stroll the city in search of a few antique shops and unusual galleries. I’m aiming to see incredible pieces of Victorian and Sheffield silver, an English specialty. Two hundred and fifty years ago, Sheffield Silver Plate was an affordable, quality alternative to sterling silver. Today, it’s not just a collectible, but highly sought after.
This carving set has delightful detailing on the handles. It consists of a sharpening steel and a carving knife and fork. I also found a Sheffield serrated bread knife in the same shop that is not an exact pattern match to the carving set, but certainly a lovely compliment to the carving set, so I am including it. The four pieces date to the early 1900s, are all Sheffield, and are in great condition. ($185) Sheffield also produces extraordinary pewter pieces. I couldn’t resist this tankard with the naked lady handle. Is there a more ideal mug in which to drink beer? Unfortunately, there is only one, so you’ll have to pass her ‘round. ($85)
And incredible pieces of sterling silver abound in London! A salt cellar with a colbalt blue liner and its own sterling spoon is matched with a sterling pepper shaker. Both pieces are balanced on three ornate feet, with the elaborate culmination of a lion’s head at the top of each foot. The three pieces are clean and polished and quite impressive. ($165)
I’m a nut for figural pieces and immediately bought these amazing sugar tongs. Made from sterling silver and marked ‘Germany,’ it is a heavy and fully functional piece. The detailing on his hands, feet and face is quite precise. I’ll miss him when he’s gone. ($385)
Wandering a small alley, I happened upon a curious shop with all kinds of old wood, shiny brass and various hunting accoutrements. I was ecstatic to find a Clockwork Spit, also referred to as a ‘spitjack.’ What an ingenious design! The meat hangs on the hook over the fireplace’s embers to slowly roast. The clockwork mechanism slowly causes the meat to revolve, rotating one revolution one way, then back the other way, and then back again. A cast-iron wheel and four, adjustable hanging loops are suspended by a brass clockwork rotating mechanism. Marked 30 Salter Warranted. From England, late 19th century, it measures 16” long and 7” diameter. ($325)
I also scored a fabulous brass kettle, polished to a high sheen. It sits proudly on a brass stand and has a warmer below. The piece bears a circular mark enclosing conjoined “WS&S” for William Soutter & Sons of Birmingham, England. The height overall is 13.25” ($210)
The final piece of brass I scored is a brandy warmer with a spout. Who wouldn’t want such a fine tool, particularly on a cold winter’s night? The bottom of the piece is woven into place, signifying its age into the mid-1800s. The condition is marvelous, as it is spirit ready. ($155)
With warm brandy on the brain, I took a break and warmed myself in the afternoon sun at a table along the Thames, daydreaming about the previous evening’s sublime dinner at The River Cafe. Wood fired roasted squid, explosive with flavors of the sea, was followed by a salad of thinly shaved Puntarelle tossed with fresh anchovy and accompanied by an unctuous Soave. Locally hunted roasted whole grouse still managed to sing when paired with a mature Chianti, its rose petal and cherry notes perfectly playing against the gamey bird. Affogatos with homemade vanilla bean ice cream and Nonnino grappas punctuated the evening. The dining room’s convivial spirit added to the divinity of this seasonal meal. Even the grass-green olive oil on the table was small production, freshly pressed and spicy as hell. Opened in 1987 by Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray, the dining room brought fresh, seasonal flavors to the then drab London cooking scene. The restaurant earned a Michelin star in 1988, but quite sadly, the world lost Ruth Rogers in early 2010.
Awoke late to a smattering of rain, an all-too familiar London sight. Quickly packed a small bag and located a Volkswagon reserved through Zipcar. Acting as navigator to the countryside town of Somerset, three hours south of the city, meant sitting white-knuckled, neck veins bulging, screaming directions at my pilot while she drove the dark, winding, tiny, and often one-way roads in the rain - on the wrong side of the street from the wrong side of the car!!!!! We finally arrived into the sweet Somerset village of West Coker and to The Lanes Hotel. This little hotel is housed in a former rectory whose old stone and wood structure has been made new again; restored to a highly modern sheen incorporating glass, colorful paintings, art, and warm lighting. I took a seat in the lobby in front of a mod gas fireplace, cleverly tucked inside an enormous old stone hearth, and found that a bottle of Meursault and a terrine made from local, wild game helped to soothe my frazzled nerves.
Even in the chilly rain, the hotel was full, but I never saw more than a few people. I soaked in the spa, sans garments, for nearly an hour and didn’t encounter a soul. It was late and I was hungry. Darted across the lawns and through a couple of stonewalls to an ancient pub, only to be told that the kitchen was closed, but they’d accommodate us with chips. Platters of greasy, salty, thick-cut fries were washed down with never-ending pints of beer. A neighborhood gang of old British men sang local dirges and played every instrument imaginable, showing off for the couple of Americans fortunate enough to have wandered in off the wet, cobbled street. The next morning found us on a too early train to the historic city of Bath. I made the pilgrimage into the imposing stone Abbey, which dates to 675 AD, and sat for a long while in the creaking wood pews. I was mesmerized watching tourists from all over the world slowly read the highly descriptive epitaphs on tombs located inside the sanctuary. “Here lies Anne Mann; she lived an old maid and died an old Mann.” Indeed, the walls do talk… Blinking into the sunlight outside, I skipped the tour of Bath’s baths and headed to the antiques market, where the old men were properly attired against the frigid morning. I was immediately attracted to a gentleman with a bushy salt and pepper beard who was manning a table laden with early pieces of copper, wood and porcelain.
This impressive copper funnel is 15 inches tall with a great tin lining. And like the desirable French belle that she is, her fine condition belies her turn-of-the-century age. ($310)
I grew excited to find a box of six bone spoons. Dating to the late 1800s from England, the custard hue and lines are compelling. Perfect for bone marrow, salt or caviar. Maybe ceviche? ($85 each or all six for $435).
I indulged my senses with two porcelain creamers, both produced by Royal Bayreuth in the early 1920s in Bavaria, Germany. The figural fish head ($245) has warm coloring, an enormous mouth, and measures 4 inches tall. Unflawed. I always smile at the St. Bernard’s woeful expression. He measures 3.5 inches, has great hues of gray and brown, and remains in brilliant condition ($245).
Careening the back roads of the English countryside, only slightly stoned from half an old joint I lucked across in my toiletry bag. Having chatted up the hotelier, we got the skinny on the area. Green slopes. Black and white cows. Red barns and gray skies that shifted shade. Late morning found us in an empty pub with a fireplace the size of a child’s room for a coffee, before making a detour into the little town of Axminster. We fortuitously happened into The River Cottage Canteen, a project by English Chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. I’ve always been a big fan of his books, which are not merely cookbooks but rather ethos on eating. His casual, comfortable dining room, with its locally produced foodstuffs and rich beers held the promise of a fine lunch. A duck pate made from the contents of a generous neighbor’s hunting bag was so dense and rich, so incredibly dark, gamey, livery, minerally… that surprisingly, I couldn’t take more than three bites. The lack of indulgence left plenty of appetite for grilled sardines, pulled from waters off the Dorset coast and dressed simply with lemon and chopped parsley. The beer was a local affair, full of hops and spice. A slice of gooey goat cheese made on a nearby farm and a salad of hearty winter lettuces left me refreshed. Pushed on to the coastal town of Lyme Regis; its claim to fame having been the location for the movie The French Lieutenant’s Woman. I was more impressed to find the stellar Town Mill Bakery. We took refuge from the angry, spitting sky with large steaming mugs of ‘Workman’s Tea’ (also known as Builder’s Tea) doused with local honey and accompanied by dense lemon cakes. We watched from the communal tables of the warm bakery as the wind blew salt from the crashing surf. I was glad I ventured into the few shops which remained open. I found a very heavy, brass mortar and oversized 5” brass pestle. It screams to be on a wood counter to grind herbs and spices. ($225)
My last find in the UK was quite special: a pair of salt and pepper shakers, with superbly detailed silver elephant heads made from the Victorian period. The crystal bodies are heavy and in very fine condition. English from the mid-1800s, and measuring 3 inches from trunk to base. Highly unusual. ($285)
My treasures and I made it home unharmed. The U.S. Customs Officers, however, managed to locate most of my contraband salumi. Ah, well. It was a fine trip. Always love traveling. Always love returning home. Until the next adventure…
Lisa Minucci | Heritage Culinary Artifacts
Oxbow Public Market | 610 First Street, Stall 14
Napa, CA 94559 |
Share This: If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air, Quaint little villages here and there, You’re sure to fall in love with Old Cape Cod.
Written by Claire Rothrock, Milton Yakus, and Allan Jeffrey, 1957 and sung by Patti Page. Landed at Boston’s Logan Airport on a recent gray and windy afternoon. I could feel the wonderfully damp chill of New England the moment I ran screaming from the foul, putrid air of the plane. How I love to travel, yet how I loathe the process! Hungry and tired, I craved restoration in the form of an old-school Boston experience. Walked into The Daily Catch in the city’s North End just as a coveted table in this tiny 20-seat room freed up. Run by a Sicilian family, the green awning has been hovering over this spot on Hanover Street for as long as I can remember (from the hazy little I recall from my stupor-induced college days in Boston, anyway…) Quickly ordered a cheap bottle of young Chianti and was overwhelmed by the comforting smell of frying garlic. That familiar aroma always brings me to my knees.
Plates arrived in a slow rhythm. Tomato and onion salad made tangy by red wine vinegar was followed by baked haddock pulled from the local waters; naked but for a dusting of crumb and a dab of butter and served on its still sizzling cast iron skillet. Doused with lemon, it was the essence of New England simplicity. A steaming bowl of pasta then arrived: the house specialty. Homemade black pasta made with squid ink and topped with chopped calamari, parley and handfuls of fragrant garlic. We ordered another bottle of Chianti, its bright acidity a perfect foil to the richness of the dish, and proceeded to eat every damn bite, sopping up the oily goodness with that nasty, doughy stuff that constitutes Italian bread on the east coast. Early the next morning, we slowly meandered southeastward from Boston, driving Route 6A through the entirety of Cape Cod. The quintessentially east coast architecture of the boxy Cape Cod homes, the Spring carpets of purple crocus and the sunny bonnets of the daffodils, and the American flags hanging from the front porches brought back fond memories of growing up on this windswept peninsula jutting into the Atlantic.
Had a hearty New England breakfast of pancakes and bacon at The Sailing Cow Café in Dennisport, in the middle of the Cape, before foraging for a few pieces of great Americana for the shop. The first antique shop yielded a few of my favorite finds of the trip.
One of the better food signs I have ever found, it reads ‘OYSTERS’ and hails from Cape Cod from the early part of the 1900s, probably 1930s-1940s, complete with old nails. It measures 3’ long by 9” wide. ($510)
These five brass pitchers appear to have been handmade. They all have spouts and large handles and are in wonderful condition. Surely, they can be cleaned up but I enjoy the patina. The five measuring mugs are early American, mid-to-late 1800s (set $245).
During the 1800s and into the early 1900s, grocers used brass stencils to mark their boxes of fruits and vegetables. Marked Lima Beans, Assorted Fruis and Sugar Peas, each stencil has an fabulous patina and measures 9”across. They can be framed, displayed – and even used! ($95 each)
Heavy cast iron pieces always catch my eye, especially cool figural pieces that can go from oven to table so beautifully. This fish measures 13” from lips to tail and 8.5” from top fin to bottom. It hails from Japan, early 1900s ($185).
I’m always on the hunt for beer related antiques. High quality pieces are extremely difficult to come by, so I could barely contain my enthusiasm at coming across this very heavy bronze beer tap with a figural fish spot. Measuring 11” across and 9” high, it’s a very fine European piece from turn-of-the-century or earlier. ($485) Making our way further down Cape, we stopped in the too-picturesque seaside town of Wellfleet for a late afternoon platter of their famed oysters, which were dug that morning from just beyond the back door of our harbor side perch. I also indulged in a huge bowl of steamers, dredging each one in hot salt water to clean them of sand and then in a butter bath before feasting. Their sweet/saltiness is a true, seasonal east coast joy. Washed down the bivalves with several bottles of cold Red Stripe, the tasty Jamaican brew. From there, we forged on to Provincetown, located at the very tip of the Cape. I was fortunate to find a couple of treasures in the very few shops that were open.
I swooned for this little three legged lamp has figural feet and a fringed shade made from animal hyde, which gives off the most lovely hue. It dates to the early 1900s and measures 12” tall. ($190)
Mid-century pottery always catches my eye. Its color and form are always distinct, clean and oh-so-modern. This platter from Frankoma Pottery was produced in Oklahoma in the early 1950s and is in wonderful condition. The color is rich and vivid and it is the perfect vessel for serving olives, cheese, nuts and condiments. It measures 12” in diameter. ($88)
Tin and metal molds are such fun, especially the more unusual, figural pieces. This chocolate mold sports the shape of pretzels, reminding me of my early days in New York, when the twisted doughy bread studded with salt and smothered in yellow mustard was this poor working girl’s lunch. It’s heavy and measures 5.75” across and 6.5’ high. ($185) Bunked for a couple of nights in Provincetown at The Brass Key, a lovely complex of rooms, which open onto a fabulous courtyard, all done up by several men of impeccable taste. My room sported old-school floral wallpaper and a shower with four heads stocked with great product. The downstairs bar is hysterically named ‘Ship Wrecked’, and I’m sure that during high season, more than one or two sailors are found beached there. Wandered Commercial Street, P’town’s aptly named main drag, now quiet as off-season looms but still managing to see plenty of leather harnesses and stud collars on parade.
And speaking of which… who says there is no such thing as a phallic culinary artifact? I scored this ceramic penis decanter from a dealer situated down a peaceful little alleyway. Originally from Portugal, legend has it that the bride-to-be would fill it with liquor and pass it around to her bridesmaids the night before the nuptials, allowing each girl to take a pleasurable gulp from it. Made of ceramic and painted in great hues. ($345)
Wrapped in a heavy sweater and seated in a quiet, empty outdoor café, we tucked into yet another lobster and a bottle of Italian white wine, departing only as a chilly fog descended on us. Slightly tipsy, I stumbled into a late-night candy shop on the return to the hotel. I bought half a pound of the appropriately named Drunken Fudge, the smeared crumbs of which I found in my sheets the following morning. Slept buried under my blankets with all the doors and windows open, listening to the fog horn moan in the far off distance… Awoke to warm sunshine and took a soak in the large hot tub, enjoying the breeze and the solitude. Went to Race Point Beach, which circles the northern coast of Provincetown, and took a long morning walk to the lighthouse. Found a large cuttlefish skull picked to a white sheen by the gulls and the pounding Atlantic. It’ll be perfect for the shop! Sat in the unseasonably warm sun on a bench overlooking Provincetown Harbor, the tide far out and a lovely sea breeze blowing in.
Went to Devon’s on Commercial Street for breakfast, the windows open onto the harbor. Spinach and black truffle cheese scrambled eggs with applewood smoked bacon; English muffins layered with house made raspberry jam served from pottery crocks on each table. Rich, dark coffee, freshly squeezed pulpy grapefruit juice, and Red Bliss potatoes made with Old Bay seasoning made it a truly memorable breakfast.
Fortified, we drove off-Cape to Rhode Island, stopping to see the decadent Newport mansions situated right on the edge of Newport’s famed cliffs. Good God, have you seen these places? The Breakers, commissioned by the Vanderbilt family in the late 1800s, is so over-the-top that I’m sure my mouth was hanging open during the entire tour. What opulence! I brought myself back down to Earth by haunting various antique shops in the tiny state of Rhode Island.
This sign, ‘State Hatchery’ is originally from Maine and had hung in the dealer’s home for 50+ years. It dates to the 1930s and is in wonderful condition. The truly amazing aspect? It’s double sided and can be hung in the middle of a room or over a kitchen island. It measures 22” tall, 52” wide and 2” deep. One of a kind. ($1450)
This Victorian-era butter service is quite unique, topped with a dairy cow. In wonderful condition, it is fitted with a butter knife and an interior tray, which rests on a bed of ice. In wonderful condition, this piece was created by Simpson, Hall and Miller Silverworks in the late 1800s in Connecticut. ($245)
Cast iron calls to me. These heavy, figural sheep are very well done with great detail. They can be used as doorstops or bookends. I love them! (pair $185)
As my background is in wine and my shop sits in the heart of Napa Valley, I am always hunting for unusual wine antiques. This European wood, picking basket is a rare item, and still boasts its leather straps. The patina is rich and lovely and would be perfectly suited to hang on the wall of a kitchen, or over a hearth. Dates to the mid-1800s. ($1650) The last night’s dinner was a long anticipated affair at Rhode Island’s famed Al Forno. A bottle of young Barolo accompanied a rustic, rich dish of tomato and eggplant covered with local, bubbling mozzarella, which had been roasted in their wood fired oven. God, how I adore the east coast Italian sensibility! Guinea hen, smoky and succulent from the wood oven, was served with locally produced polenta and freshly plucked dandelion. Food and service were all top-notch, but I’m not a fan of being asked to order dessert with my entrée. Surely, this consistently packed dining room sets such a policy to keep tables turning, but it feels rushed and less than hospitable. And I usually prefer a green salad and a piece of cheese to hunk of chocolate cake at my meal’s end.
Too much good booty to pack away in my suitcases, so I spent the final, precious east coast morning negotiating with a shipping company to deliver the pieces westward, safely and before the turn-of-the-century. I’m happy to report all arrived and my cuttlefish skull, retrieved from Race Point Beach that fine morning, continues to waft its briny scent throughout my shop in Napa Valley.
Wedding season is nearly upon us. I have been asked repeatedly to offer personalized gift registries of unique, one-of-a-kind items. May I be of assistance to you? Please contact me directly at email@example.com and I would be very pleased to discuss details. And of course, if any of these items in this newsletter move you, write to me. Please know that each items is unique and I only have one - so when they’re gone, they are gone. But I will do my best to fulfill your wishes.
Until next time.
Lisa Minucci | Heritage Culinary Artifacts
Oxbow Public Market | 610 First Street, Stall 14
Napa, CA 94559 |