Dear West Point Market,
You were my first love. For years you were my only love, until lesser stores began glamming up, making cheating on you more convenient. But I’ll never forget those heady days of my early love affair with fine food and with you.
I remember you before the 1988 expansion, when a bulbous jar of wrinkled Nicoise olives sat atop the meat case, wordless announcement that this was no ordinary grocery store. In Akron, Ohio, I marveled, I could make authentic salade Nicoise!
Before I became the Beacon Journal’s food writer in 1984, I worried that I wasn’t chic enough or important enough to shop your aisles. People actually dressed up to visit. I overheard discussions at work about the outfits my West Akron friends encountered in the store. Would a bouncer usher me out for wearing tennis shoes and a track suit?
What a laugh. Russ Vernon, the charming owner, put everyone at ease, like the genial host of a party. He fielded questions about unfamiliar foods as if he lived for the opportunity, and carried groceries to cars alongside the bag boys.
Once when I was 34 and a callow California Cellars fan, I scraped together $100 to blow on wine. Russ did not laugh when I asked him to help me select a case – a case! — of reds that would age well. He spent an hour doing exactly that, with the best bargain wines I’ve ever tasted.
I became a West Point regular and cherished the times Russ would round up three or four of us to follow him downstairs to taste some new items crowding his desk. Or he would excitedly open a bottle of wine and pour sips, a gleam in his eye. He didn’t just sell fine food, he was obsessed with it, and sought out those of us who were likewise afflicted.
Saturday I waited outside your doors, fourth in line in a swelling throng of your former lovers. If we had been more constant, you would not be selling your imported butters and triple-crème St. Andre cheese at half price in preparation for your demise.
The thick line roped around the side of the building before heading north through the parking lot to the back fence. By noon the line extended through the east parking lot almost to Hawkins Avenue.
I remember that parking lot in happier times. In 1988 it was filled with white tents, waiters and Perrier Jouet Champagne to celebrate the 10,500-foot expansion, making it the largest specialty foods store in the country. I felt lucky to have gotten an invitation to the party.
I remember the annual free breakfasts in the parking lot, and many summer days when the aroma of brats wafted from outdoor grills.
On Saturday when the doors opened the half-crazed crowd dashed through the store. I wandered into the cheese department and was studying a box of crackers when Russ’ son, Rick Vernon, wished me a Merry Christmas.
I’m going to try to do this without crying,” I said.
“Me, too,” he responded.
Turns out I wasn’t in the mood for bargains. Bags of pasta were snatched from under my nose and I was pushed and prodded in the tea aisle. I had harvested a mere tin of smoked paprika, a couple of tubs of cheese spread and a container of sliced almonds when I eyed the throng at the meat case and gave up.
This was no way to say goodbye. I will do that later with a bottle of Champagne and a good cry. For now, I’ll just thank you, West Point, for some of the most magical hours of my life. And thank you, Russ, for sharing and stoking my passion.
I finally got around to eating at Sushi Asian Gourmet, the fairly new restaurant on Portage Path in the Merriman Valley, in the revolving-door property that has held at least a half-dozen restaurants beginning with G.D. Ritzy’s.
Asian Gourmet has a little sushi bar and Vietnamese and Thai items on the menu, but go for the Chinese food – specifically, the Szechuan. The chef is from Szechuan province, the owner says.
I believe it, because the Szechuan eggplant with pork that I had for lunch was absolutely tremendous. I will dream about it. I can’t wait to go back and order it again.
My husband, a pho fanatic, says his bowl of soup and noodles didn’t taste especially Vietnamese, but the broth was good and stocked with plenty of good-quality beef that had little fat or gristle. It came with the required selection of herbs and lime wedges to add to the broth.
For more information about the restaurant, including hours, go to http://www.sushiasiagourmet.com and click on “contact.”
From Pat Simons, Hudson:
I recently made Scottish Millionaire Shortbread. Adopting a Glasgow recipe, I used McEvities biscuit crust for the base, which is a good alternative to shortbread and tasty. However, I tried their method of boiling a can of sweetened condensed milk (2 hours then cooled, making dolce de leche) for the center. Tasty but it oozed everywhere.
The center layer in the final product should be soft but a bit different from the consistency and taste of melted Kraft caramels or jarred caramel sauce. Wondered if you have a recipe for a center that is soft but not oozing.
Dear Pat: I don’t, but I do know you should not boil an unopened can of sweetened condensed milk. It could explode. Open, transfer the contents to a pan, and simmer it until golden brown.
Maybe canned dolce de leche, sold in Mexican food markets, would be thicker than homemade.
From Carol Whidden:
The microwave pecan brittle (in last week’s newsletter) is a hit with our friends. They keep munching away! A great recipe to round out the cookie plate! Could you send me the duck with olives recipe? I have a duck waiting in the freezer for a special occasion. Thanks for all your good recipes and hints over the years.
DUCK WITH OLIVES CHEZ ALLARD
(“Bistro Cooking” by Patricia Wells)
1⁄4 tsp. fennel seeds
12 parsley stems
8 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1/4 tsp. thyme
2 tbsp. rendered chicken fat (or 1 tbsp. oil and 1 tbsp. butter)
2 lb. chicken wings or backs
1 duck (4 to 6 lbs.), cleaned and trussed, neck and gizzards reserved
3 medium yellow onions, minced
1 1/2 tbsp. flour
2 quarts chicken stock
2 cups dry white wine
1⁄3 cup tomato paste
1/2 lb. brine-cured, pitted green olives
2 tbsp. butter
Put fennel, parsley, peppercorns, bay leaf, and thyme on a 4-inch square piece of cheesecloth, double thickness. Bring up corners and tie with kitchen string to make a bouquet garni; set aside.
Heat chicken fat or butter and oil in a heavy, 8-qt. pot over medium-high heat. Add chicken pieces and reserved duck neck and gizzards, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, 8 minutes. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 5 minutes. Sprinkle with ﬂour and cook, stirring, for 1 minute.
Add bouquet garni, stock, and wine. Stir in tomato paste. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer uncovered for 2 hours. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a non-reactive saucepan.
Meanwhile, bring a quart of water to boil in a saucepan. Add olives and boil over high heat for 2 minutes. Drain and rinse olives under cold water; set aside. The sauce may be made to this point up to a day in advance and refrigerated. Spoon off the fat before continuing. Add olives to the sauce and simmer uncovered over medium-low heat for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until sauce is thick enough to coat a spoon.
Meanwhile, heat oven to 475 degrees. Pierce duck skin all over with a knife. Rub with butter. Place breast side down on a rack in a roasting pan filled with a half-inch of water. Roast for 30 minutes.
Reduce heat to 350 degrees. Continue cooking about 1 hour longer, until skin is crisp and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the deepest part of a thigh (without touching the bone) reads 160 degrees. Transfer to a platter and let rest for 20 minutes.
To serve, carve duck and arrange on a platter.
Surround the meat with the olives and sauce.
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