(mid december. number 55.)
Mistletoe hung from the gas brackets in all the front parlors; there was sherry and walnuts and bottled beer and crackers by the dessertspoons; and cats in their fur-abouts watched the fires; and the high-heaped fire spat, all ready for the chestnuts and the mulling pokers.
- Dylan Thomas, A Child's Christmas in Wales
Mother Foucault's Bookshop is my favorite bookshop in the world.
On my very first visit to the shop, months after it opened in the early summer of 2011, I found the perfect copy of a book I'd been looking at length for. It was You Can't Go Home Again by Thomas Wolfe, a much referenced-title but infrequently read masterpiece by an author who only wrote masterpieces (in my opinion). It is the last of 4 massive autobiographical novels, and at the time, since the fall of the previous year, I'd been patiently and intentionally consuming each one, in chronological order. The time had come for You Can't Go Home Again, but I didn't want the poorly designed mid-2000s paperback I kept seeing everywhere. There on the shelf at Mother Foucault's was an old, sweet smelling, off white linen hardback. I was so thrilled, I immediately told the proprietor, Craig Florence, my whole story (I do a lot of that, if you haven't noticed, dear reader), and how phenomenal the experience I was having was. I offered my services for anything he might like to help get the word out about the shop. After talking a bit, we decided I would make some letterpress printed bookmarks, for him to give away with each book sale. A little old world touch, beyond the beautiful stamp he'd already been offering to stamp on the front pages.
Craig built out the interior of the shop himself, using old wood and furnishings found here and there. Being there, you'd have thought it had been around since the 1920s, and I'm sure that was his intention. After months of stopping by the shop, I finally learned about his own original inspiration. He'd lived at and worked at Shakespeare & Company in Paris from when he was like 19 into his early 20s. He'd stumbled into the job, and the experience left a mark, and the opening of Mother Foucault's was an act of getting back to that magic.
I made posters for other events at the shop, hosted a poetry-on-vinyl listening party there, and also a marathon reading of The Great Gatsby on the first day of fall, in 2012.
When I was preparing to go to Europe for two months later that fall, with my best friend from college, Craig was filled with great recommendations. I carried the story of his opening the shop to Shakespeare & Company. The people there had come long after him, but they were so grateful to hear about it. I left one of the bookmarks with them. He told me about Café Panisse, right across the street, seemingly the only café in Paris where the waiters are hilarious and fun loving rather than bored and snarky. He told me to eat chestnuts on the streets somewhere. He gave me a book to take (I only wanted one, knowing I'd gather some on the way)– 4 Short Novels by Marguerite Duras. He even gave me a greasy dollar and told me to give it to a Turkish hobo, for good luck. You can read about this and other adventures in my book Autumn Wanderers, and see photos over at the accompanying blog.
For the last few years, Craig has talked of his dream of having a roasted chestnut stand outside of the shop around the holidays. This year, since he'd expanded the shop to the neighboring space, taking its refined aesthetic and cozy ethos about five steps further, I decided to take it upon myself to schedule the event and make it happen for him. The best friend from college, my travel companion in Autumn Wanderers, Asher Woodworth, was set to visit for a week in the early holiday season. I knew the time was right. We expanded the idea a little bit to include "hot cheese," another European Christmas market street snack, hot spiced wine (the official drink of those markets), as well as cookies, cakes, and coffee. Once the event got rolling, Craig put on the record of Dylan Thomas reading 'A Child's Christmas In Wales' and it warbled solemnly and beautifully throughout the shop.
It was an absolute dream come true to spend this winter afternoon in Portland with Asher, serving up hot chestnuts and hot cheese and hot wine, just like we'd had together 2 years earlier on the frozen streets of Europe.
A wintry spice cake, made especially moist from the addition of persimmon purée. Dotted with chopped dates, and finished with an orange glaze. Tastes like Christmas morning.
This cake was made by our friend/collaborator Holly Myers. Holly makes all the ice cream at 50 Licks, our favorite ice cream shop. In October, the Secret Restaurant Portland crew collaborated with her on an ice cream to enter Edible Portland's Underground Airwaves One-Year Anniversary Experimental Ice Cream Competition. Our flavor? Cardamom/ black pepper/ Juanitas. We didn't win, but the winner (our friend, Jordan Behr, who made 'Tobacco Marshmallow') said he voted for our flavor, not knowing it was ours, so that was good enough for us!
Gooseberry & Almond Cake
A classic almond cake. Since acquiring a real taste for it in the fall of 2012, somewhere between the opening of Sweedeedee and December days spent in Berlin cafés, I have made several. Now I don't really use a recipe. I just wildly throw things in the stand mixer. This one used freshly ground almonds, a little bit of spelt flour, nutmeg, and some sour cream. I made two small circular cakes, then slathered some gooseberry and redcurrant freezer jam I had made this summer between the two.
Cardamom Ginger Chews
A recipe from somewhere. Sofie loves haunting the Holiday cookie recipes and showing them to me. This one was the easily agreed upon most appealing. Sofie whipped them up so quickly and expertly, I suspect she could have done it wearing a blindfold. They were delicious– some perfect middle ground between a molasses chew and a ginger snap, with the cardamom sending them to the stratosphere.
Smoked Mountain Cheese with Cranberry Sauce
We served this dish in February '13, but that was one-per-person for a dinner party of 12 guests. Here's my explanation from that meal:
Replicating the "hot cheese" I ate at the Christmas markets in Krakow. The little single portions are served from hot grills with dollops of cranberry sauce. This cheese, oscypek, was impossible to find here in Portland. So, I recreated the cheese by melting down other smoked cheeses in a double boiler, shaping individual cheese bites in the candy mold we have, letting them cool, then smoking them myself with applewood chips in the backyard, the frosty morning before this dinner. The pieces were heated up in the cast iron dutch oven prior to serving. Served with a cranberry sauce I had made/froze at the height of cranberry season.
My experience of having had this particular combination of hot, salty cheese with sweet/tangy cranberry sauce, accompanied by hot spiced wine, in the middle of a medieval market square, in the snow, was the most significant the inspiration to do this whole meal.
The moment of inspiration described at the end is carried over here, but this was a whole different deal, preparing for an open invitation/walk up kind of event. I melted down really a vast quantity of Dutch, Scandinavian, and eastern European cheeses. Then blended them in the food processor, for a smoother texture than last time, then shaped them with a shell shaped-spoon rather than the candy mold. Instead of pre-smoking them, we threw alder chips on the grill right before grilling them up.
Lucas maybe ate too many of them (see the last photo in the gallery, one of many great sleepy Lucas photos in SR history).
Pre-roasted in the oven, with just enough water at the bottom of the roasting dishes to properly steam the nuts to tenderness, then cooked up on the hot grill to order.
Craig said the classic price point is $2 for 5 chestnuts. We started serving that much, then quickly devolved into serving as many as people could eat, and giving several bags away to hobos, spreading the Holiday Cheer.
We made this Gluwein using a combination of Hungarian mildly sweet red, German pinot noir, Portugese tawny port, California "barn/farm" named dry red blends, and the common bottled German gluwein. We seasoned it ourselves using cinnamon sticks, cloves, star anise, oranges, and pomegranate seeds.
It was ridiculously tasty and perfect in the frosty air on the sidewalk. Craig kept coming back for refills and saying "I don't know why I drink anything else!"
Peru Churupampa- Stumptown.
From the little card on the bag:
Varietal: Typica, Caturra, and Pache.
Flavors: Lemon presides over a tart yet sweet cup with flavors of chocolate, grape, and caramel.
The Tocto family cultivates their coffee without the use of herbicides and pesticides near the small town of Chirinos in the Department of Cajamarca. The family rearranged their wet mill and tripled their raised bed drying capacity, and the results show clearly in the improved cup quality. We proudly purchased their entire harvest from their 15 hectare farm for the second year in a row.
Jason Overby at Stumptown is the husband of a lady whose book of poetry I edited and released over at Two Plum Press. He is an amazing illustrator, and a drawing of his serves as the endpapers for the book. This connection led us to his coffee donation, and may lead to more in the future.
Papa New Guinea Ulya- Water Avenue
As usual, expertly paired with the flavors of the other food by Aaron at Water Avenue.
From the bag: The Ulya Mill Processes Coffees from Hundreds of Smallholders Farming in Wahgi Valley of the Western Highlands. This washed Typica and Arusha varietal lot showcases the rich, herbal earth tones of coffees from the region, and brings in the crisp acidity of wild cranberries and buttermilk for a truly memorable cup.