Floating in the warm, salty waters off Curaçao, watching the pelicans dive bomb for their lunch. Was the B52 modeled on their moves? Feet spread far apart, riding the thermals, they’re able to spot their pray from dozens of feet above the water. They dive head first, wings spread far apart, and slam into the water, gobbling up colorful fish. Head back, the poor snagged fish slides down his enormous gullet. Makes me jones for fresh fish. Most of the food stuffs on the island are shipped in from nearby Venezuela or from Holland, the island’s protectorate. Land on Curaçao is so costly that it’s less expensive to ship it in rather than grow it. Silly, huh?
in Instanbul. A completely wild city influenced by the multitudes that have come through… Arabs, Asians, Europeans……
Aimlessly wandering the mosques, palaces and souks during the day, with lunches of roasted lamb and vegetables while seated next to dark, cologned men speaking a completely unfamiliar tongue. Awoken each morning by the Muslim call to prayer and put to sleep each night by glasses of Turkish wine made from varietals of which I’ve never heard….
Good Lord, it was 4am and I was already late. Puffy-eyed and tripping over my barely laced hunting boots, I crawled into the cab of John’s pick-up truck. I laid my shot gun on the floor and put my picnic basket on the seat; its savory aromas immediately filling the car and making John’s bird dogs hungry with anticipation. This, after all, is what Labradors live for: opening day of bird season.
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 |