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300. Liveliest Cooking School in Oaxaca
The traditional cuisine of Oaxaca is exquisitely rich and sophisticated, with roots that go deep into the region’s colonial and prehispanic past.  There is no livelier guide to its mouthwatering complexities than Susana Trilling, a cookbook author and PBS television host who has spent the last 15 years in the kitchens of Oaxaca, researching authentic recipes for moles and dozens of other indigenous gastronomic delights.  A former caterer and restaurant chef, she now runs Seasons of My Heart, a cooking school at Rancho Aurora, an organic farm just outside town where she lives with her husband and two young sons.  In July, we spent five days there, cooking and eating some of the best food we’ve had in years.  (This entry continued here.)

299. Most Homey Hardware Store
Lee Valley Tools Ltd., of course, is more than a hardware store.  It offers garden equipment, woodcraft tools, and an assortment of this and thats which appeal to its down home management.  You can read more about this Ottawa enterprise in our Letters from the Global Province, 23 July 2003.  As we said there, we have developed a passion for the place, after a chat with the slightly retired Chairman Leonard Lee without even trying his  products and services.  Now we have been into the Christmas 2002 catalog and ordered “The Stainless-Steel Rasp and Zester Holder,” which comes highly recommended by a reader of The Global Province.  You would be proud to have the lady who answered the phone in your family:  she was cheery, helpful, and authoritative.  The catalog, incidentally, has a slightly retrograde look, perhaps out of the 1950s, and probably could use a graphic overhaul.  It is more inviting for the passionate customer who will pour over every detail than a busy, distracted urbanite.  On the other hand, it conveys an anti-slick, homey feeling, perhaps like L.L. Bean, suggesting that Valley folk make more substantial merchandise that actually works.  This is in contrast, say, to a Restoration Hardware or the chap from Lexington, Kentucky, both of whom tell a better story and conjure up vastly more eye appeal, but whose stuff is a little thin on quality at the end of the day.  In the front of the catalog, Leonard Lee recommends his own favorites which include an orange pekoe tea and the Charing Cross Road books.  They are amongst the surprises in the catalog that suggest that Lee and his colleagues have a life and values larger than the business.  Mr. Lee is very proud of his tools, but we suspect that ambiance and service have more to do with his success than the cut of his saws.  Lee Valley (  1090 Morrison Drive.  Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  K2H 1C2.  Telephone:  1-800-871-8158.

Update: Tinker Chief
Leonard Lee, founder of Lee Valley and still chairman, no longer runs the joint.  Both here and at Canica, his medical instrument company, he has other guys in charge.  He now has the joy of being a tool designer—in both venues.  In a recent interview, he reflected on the geography of innovation, amongst other things.  “There is a better R&D tax climate here than anywhere else in the world.  And you can get intelligent staff.  Our competitors in the U.S. woodworking tool business have far higher rates of returned products.  It is usually because their employees are not as numerate or literate as ours.”  But Canada apparently is not as entrepreneurial.  “We are not risk-takers in general.  My parents told me to get a good education and a secure government job. That is a pretty Canadian approach.”  “Canadians are always sort of later adopters and so they are also later innovators.”  “What I find most amazing is watching Canadian and American businesses farm out their customer service.  You might as well put a gun to your head and pull the trigger.  It’s Russian roulette if you farm it out.”  (11/5/08)

298. Rare Breeds in Maine
Robyn Metcalfe’s Kelmscott Farm ( in Maine is a paradise of rare farm animals, all very ironic as farming itself become a rarer experience in America.  There you can find a Gloucestershire Old Spots Pig, Black Jersey Giant Chickens,  Cotswold Sheep, or a Poitou Ass.  Great for children and adult children.

297. Most Comprehensive Fine Tea Guide
The Tea Review Archive (  This is an automated affair where tea lovers can submit reviews of their favorites, and their comments automatically get pinned up on the site.  The plus is that every specialty tea under the sun appears on the list.  But the downside is that every name is there, and you cannot tell which are the dogs unless you know a fair amount about the tea trade.  For instance, it seems to be common knowledge amongst tea brokers that British teas have been in decline for a quite a while, and the Germans, meanwhile, have climbed up hill.  Needless to say, a bunch of Brit brands are praised beyond belief on the site.  But you will not find out here about the Decline and Fall of tea in the Empire.  That said, it’s nice to see lists like this that spread the passion for good sipping.

296. Best Gift for All Seasons
In 2002, growing out of the agonies of September 11 2001, B. Martin Pedersen and his colleagues at Graphis published a marvelous little book called Prayers for Peace, which, indeed, looks like a missal for everyman.  It includes prayers from eighty or so of the world’s religions, from sundry religious leaders, and a handful just from people who simply know how to pray.  We gave one to a very good friend who is a minister in order to expand his prayerful vocabulary.  We recommend it to your attention since, ironically, people of religion in several countries are now propelling us toward diatribe and war, so we need to lift up our voices for something different.  Very appealing to us was a short insight from Corinthians:  If one member suffers, all suffer together.  Graphis.  307 Fifth Avenue, 10th Floor, New York, NY.  Telephone:  (212) 532-9387. Website:

295. The Best and Last Hollywood Awards Ceremony You Will Have to See
The endless awards—for pop music, for TV shows, for country music, for movies—that run ad nauseum on our TV channels shows the unfortunate talent mediocre people have for building ghastly monuments to themselves even before they are safely in the ground.  Now, for a change, there’s one worth seeing.  The American Film Institute just gave Robert De Niro a so-called Lifetime Achievement Award, and the ceremonies merit your attention.  He is truly a remarkable actor who has made a huge number of movies.  As Deer Hunter or Jake LaMotta, he submerges himself in his roles, giving us performance and revelation.  Clips from many of his movies are interspersed with all the talk, and some of his co-actors—Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, and Sandra Bernhard come to mind—comport themselves with enough wit and even self mockery to command our attention.  Martin Scorcese does the solemn bit at the end and is not quite up to the part, but then he is not an actor anyway.  As you might expect, De Niro is smart enough and tasteful enough to get on and off stage in a hurry.  See  We don’t know when this will run again, but maybe USA Network or AFI will give some indication.

294. Tetsuya—Sydney
Our peripatetic friend and correspondent Howard Gross sends us yet another jewel, this time from Australia. Tetsuya is a fine restaurant that has already been much remarked upon, but Howard's comments will help you pick your way through the menu.  For the full-text review please visit the "Sydney" portion of Best of Class—Restaurants.

293. Cookbook of the Moment: Delights from the Garden of Eden
A recent segment on PBS' The News Hour with Jim Lehrer dealt with a curious phenomenon:  the sudden, though not completely unexpected, fascination of Americans with Iraq.  The war and ensuing occupation have etched the names of cities like Basra and Mosul into our consciousness.  The fate of the Mesopotamian antiquities looted from Baghdad's museums haunts many in the West. offers 1,427 books explaining the past, present and future of Iraq.  In short, we are getting a fast, furious education about the politics and culture of the blighted land that was once the cradle of civilization.

Now comes Delights from the Garden of Eden, an extraordinary cookbook that traces the ancient roots of Iraqi cuisine.  Nawal Nasrallah, a former professor of English literature at Baghdad University, fled Iraq in 1990 just after the invasion of Kuwait, eventually settling with her family in Bloomington, Indiana where her husband was working on his doctorate.  For six years, she poured her heart, soul and memories into this 646-page volume, after suffering  breast cancer and the death of her 13-year old son Bilal from a brain hemorrhage.   When 20 publishers turned down the book, she published it herself for $1,000.  (See "Taking Comfort from an Unexpected Source," The New York Times, April 2, 2003, page D5.)

This is a wonderful book, both for reading and  cooking.  In a chatty, unassuming way, Nasrallah communicates her enthusiasm for a cuisine that at its peak was both sumptuous and sensuous.  She writes of her childhood in Baghdad, where she picnicked on the site of the ancient wall of Nineveh, on ground strewn with shards of clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform characters.  She draws from recipes that were written thousands of years ago, creating a vibrant portrait of a civilization that celebrated food in astonishing variety.  Mesopotamian tablets from 1700 BC record recipes for 300 types of bread, 100 kinds of soup and 20 cheeses.  Medieval cookbooks from the 13th century AD included elaborate stews flavored with rosewater and ambergris.  

There are 400 recipes in the cookbook, many based on centuries-old culinary traditions.  The medieval-style Fish baked in Pomegranate Sauce (p. 396) was a revelation:  We substituted catfish fillets for the carp that might have been plucked from the cold waters of the Tigris, dipped them in salt, pepper and cumin, than sautéed them in olive oil until golden brown.  A luscious sweet-tart sauce of pomegranate syrup, coriander and ground toasted walnuts was poured over the fish, which was briefly baked.  Rich, delicate and exotic, it transformed the lowly bottom-feeder into a dish fit for a caliph.   

Contact:  1st Books Library of Bloomington.  Website:  Telephone:  (888) 280-7715.  See also Mrs. Nasrallah's website:

292. The Best Garden Twine
Garden centers long ago fell victim to the indestructible virtues of plastic.  Virulent turquoise hoses have long snaked through the grass of suburban America, but now tomatoes are tied to cages with strips of Christmas green stretchy stuff and even terracotta, that most sublime pot material, has given way to more practical but less soul-satisfying polypropylene.

It is with great pleasure, then, that one occasionally encounters an authentic product like Nutscene Greentwist garden twine (  Made in Scotland since 1922, it is a soft but sturdy twine created from organic jute fiber imported from India and Bangladesh.  Dyed a medium green, it blends so perfectly with almost any foliage that it is nearly invisible.  (In fact, the name "Nutscene" is a play on the words "not seen." )  We use Nutscene Greentwist all over the garden:  for tying the thorny canes of crimson Dortmund roses to the porch balustrade, training a quartet of antique apple trees to grow over an arch, and creating bamboo teepees for scarlet runner beans  in the vegetable garden.  We are especially fond of the old-fashioned, tangle-free packaging:  the spool of twine is hidden inside a sturdy tin and can be pulled out through with a hole in the top.  In the U.S., contact:  Gardener's Supply Company, 128 Intervale Road, Burlington, VT 05401.  Telephone:  (888) 833-1412.  Website:

291. Most Stylish Glass Teapots
The herb garden is brimming with English mint and lemon balm, both of which brew the most refreshing summer teas.  The pellucid glass teapots made by Jenaer Glas are a stylish way to keep the green leaves in view as they steep.  The award-winning Wagenfeld, designed in 1931 by Bauhaus pioneer Wilhelm Wagenfeld, resembles an oval bubble with an elegantly elongated spout.  The Asian-inspired Senso shrinks the spout until it is nearly flush with the body of the teapot.  Both are made of thin, transparent glass that looks deceptively fragile.  In fact, the tempered glass is tough and heat resistant.  (Jenaer is a division of the German company Schott, which manufactures all manner of technologically advanced glass products, from optical components for telescopes to rear view mirrors.)   Either teapot would look right at home in a minimalist room by Calvin Klein.  We like our Senso on a Moroccan table beneath the red-streaked Maurelii bananas whose leaves are unfurling madly in the early summer monsoons.   Contact:  Telephone:  (888) 365-6983.  Or call Roden International at (954) 929-1900 for retailers.

290. Doc's Secret Cookbook List
Doc Holladay, by day, is a stock broker par excellence in the state of Arkansas.  But his real passions are traveling (he's been everywhere) and cooking, the ideas for which stem from his very extensive cookbook collection.  The following he thinks are some bests you may not have heard of, and he tells you why: 

Contemporary Italian by Robert Helstrom.  America’s favorite restaurant cuisine adapted for the home kitchen.  Uncomplicated but detailed instructions.  Great risotto tips.  A true gem.

Beinhorn’s Mesquite Cookery by Courtenay Beinhorn.  Mesquite is more available and the season is here.  This book is from a gal raised in mesquite country.  Not your same old brisket/rib recipes but grilling with a flair.  For example, try the chicken livers with morels.  Delicious.

The Good Egg by Marie Simmons.  Yeah, yeah, I know.  Eggs are supposed to be bad for you, but this is a must-have when you indulge yourself.  Everything you ever wanted to know, etc.

The Quick Recipe from Cooks Illustrated.  A brand new one from one of my favorite food magazines.  Real recipes that really work for real people in a real hurry.  The stir fry section alone is worth the cost.

A Treasury of Great Recipes by Vincent and Mary Price.  You probably have heard of this one but it must be included in any cookbook list.  A beautiful collection of menus from the world’s most famous restaurants.  Nostalgia at it's best.

289. Best Stop in Richmond
Richmond can make you a little sad, because it is a city that ever lives too much in the past and the cracks are showing in its buildings, economy, and demeanor.  At its endless Civil War sites, the Park guides can mainly tell you that there was once something there, but today you will only find a plaque or two or somewhat crumbling battleworks.  But the heartening place in town and a welcome retreat from a sun that gets relentless is the Jefferson Hotel on West Franklin.  It opened in 1895, and has been  rescued more than once from fire, decay, and the shift in the town’s economic fortunes.  It was created by Lewis Ginter, émigré from  New York, who built it with his third fortune, having lost two along the way.  The town’s botanical garden is also named after him, his niece having ensured after his death that it would be dedicated to fine gardens.  As in more than one fine Southern hotel, the Palm Court once had alligators, but no more.  Still there is plenty of imagination and memories of glory here—wonderful stained glass windows,  the Grand Staircase, and the Grand Ballroom.  We had two most pleasant lunches here—simple but complemented but an extra willing staff.  Even the extraordinarily spacious men’s room near the bar speaks of a town that once had big dreams and occasionally created structures that expressed its ambitions.  The Jefferson. 101 West Franklin Street.  Richmond, Virginia 23220.  Website:   Telephone:  (804) 788-8000 and (800) 424-8014.  For more on Richmond and the Jefferson, see our Global Province letter for 23 April 2003, “Richmond, Washington, and Warm Rooms.”

Update: Slightly Mediterranean
We stayed for a couple of nights on this visit.  We had planned on just one stay-over at this statuesque hotel, but were counseled by a Washington friend to retreat back here after our foray into Southern Virginia.  “The best you will do down there is a Super 8 or Motel 6.   Just go back to Richmond.”  And that’s just what we did and were glad of it.  The Jefferson is a national treasure that has survived some loving restoration.  As its sister hotel, Nashville’s The Hermitage, it’s a first-class property and the only place in the city to put up for the night. 

And like The Hermitage, its service suffers from a Mediterranean flavor: it may never happen.  For instance, its reservation software is a bit tangled, so the reservation confirmation one receives may be in electronic gibberish.  Newspapers commonly don’t get delivered.  Food in TJ’s will take quite a while to get to your table; more complex dishes don’t turn out at all well.  The air conditioning may be a little faint in the downstairs lobby.  The concierge is helpful—if not otherwise occupied on the telephone in an extended conversation, but the directions out of town may not be the most direct.  Should you put some ice bricks for your cooler in the hotel freezer, it may take 20 to 30 minutes for the bellboy to find them.  The house staff will forget to set up the rollaway bed, etc. etc. 

But the ‘buts’ are much more important than the nitpicks.  But the staff is universally very nice, and it takes pride in the hotel.  But breakfast in Lemaire is mannerly, not rushed, sunny, and quiet.  But the linens and soaps (Molton Brown) are first class in your room.  But the crabcake does taste of crab, and not filler.  But General Manager Joseph Longo and his aide Ms. Parch have been at great pains to do some much-appreciated research for us—quite out of the ordinary.  (9/13/06)

288. Smith Point
Only open a few nights a week, and hidden behind an anonymous door, this is the relaxing, get away from the crowd, good food restaurant in Georgetown that lets you feel you have escaped the clutches of  government.  It’s named after part of Nantucket, for which the chef and staff apparently have great affection.  Simple and not so simple stuff is available.  One of our party put down a steak that satisfied.  And the scallops and the crab cakes are great.  Though reviewers have complained about the wine list, we found a new white—an Argentine perhaps—that left us smiling.  Perhaps the atmosphere, down the stairs, is a bit funky, but this casualness and the jazz add quite a bit of charm, especially in a town that is turning all too Orwellian.  Smith Point.  1338 Wisconsin Avenue NW.  Washington, DC 20007.  Telephone:  (202) 333-8368.

287. Comfortable Margo
We liked the modesty of this enterprise.  It is not pretending to be more than it is. Restraint and simplicity are the better way to go when you are in the Massachusetts Bay Colony:  this has been true forever.  Sure there is an attempt to cook with a little style, so you won’t be bored.  This pleasant restaurant is located in the back of the Harborside Inn where you can have a quiet meal without a lot of hoopla.  There are a host of overpriced productions in Boston now where you pay too big a tariff, the lighting is wrong, and the food simply does not live up to the florid praise accorded by local scribblers.  Our waiter here was helpful, direct, cheerful—lo and behold, he turned out to be the bartender as well in this newish eatery that is trying to watch its expenses.  So this is a nice antidote for your spirits if you are mildly depressed after visiting a host of other Beantown restaurants that are overhyped yet tasteless.  It serves both a simple lunch and a  acceptably more complex supper.  We guess you could call it sensible new cuisinish.  Margo.  185 State Street. Boston, Massachusetts 02109.  Telephone:  (617) 670-2033.  Website:

286. An Escape from Boston's Financial District
Just off Washington Street, Mantra is truly a good way to get away from the world’s  testy financial markets and the controlled frenzy in Boston’s Financial District.  It renders this service much more ably than the many hotels in the area, which are a bit tattered these days.  You even have to be looking for the door, because you may skip right past it, as you turn up Temple Place.  Should you be with a friend, pick something mildly vegetarian and mix it, say, with a sirloin dish which will be delicately cooked.  Many praise a décor which is not really that great:  the room is really more of a cavern that has been lightly redecorated.  We understand the place was once Old Colony Trust Bank, and we can imagine that it was once useful for hiding assets.  Often, at lunch, the tables are quite empty, and you surely won’t see a lot of suits with steel rim glasses around.  Our luncheon companion had visited Mantra on her anniversary, and its atmosphere drew her back again.  The service is quick, quiet, and able, and the dishes are just enough to quiet your hunger and not add to your waistline.  Claiming to be Indian-French cuisine, it is not over-spiced but offers a fair number of flavors that have not been overwhelmed by a curry or any other concoction.  Chef Thomas John has gotten his share of write-ups inside and outside Boston.  Mantra.  52 Temple Place. Boston, Mass. 02108.  Telephone: (617) 542-8111.  Don’t bother with the website (; it is another complicated, overdone clunker.

285. Most Exotic Peppermill
One glimpse of the Atlas Peppermill set us to dreaming of the wine-dark Aegean sea and plates of peppery octopus consumed with glasses of ice-cold ouzo at a harbor restaurant in the Greek town of Nauplion.  It was here that we spent a blissful summer photographing shards from an archeological dig, learning to pluck sea urchins from the rocks in the bay and devour them without impaling ourselves on prickly spines, even discovering the archaic power of Medea performed in its orignal language.  At noon, the streets of Nauplion were hot and deserted, but the fragrance of freshly baked bread hinted at  meals eaten within tightly shuttered houses.  At night, the whole town turned out to watch the sunset and eat fish at the string of open air cafes that lined the harbor.

But back to the Atlas:  This sturdy peppermill, which is made in Greece, is based on the design of a coffeemill created hundreds of years ago for soldiers in the field. There are many colors and styles to choose from, but we are partial to the 404 model which resembles a narrow copper tower topped with a rounded cupola and a brass handle for grinding; bands of embossed grape clusters and leaves encircle the body of the mill, adding to its exotic allure.  The Atlas is easily filled by unscrewing the handle and removing the cap; our model holds an ample half-cup of whole peppercorns.  The grind is adjusted by loosening or tightening a screw on the bottom; within, a heavy steel mechanism with hand-cut burrs efficiently pulverizes the pepper. Our only quibble is that the mill is heavy, weighing in at one pound five ounces.  Still, it is handsome enough to move from the kitchen stove to the dining table, and is just the peppermill for your own summer taverna feast of grilled swordfish or shrimp souvlaki.  Contact:  Pepper Mill Imports, Inc., P. O. Box 775, Carmel, California 93921.  Telephone:  (831) 393-0244.  Website:  Also available through Dean & DeLuca, though not pictured on its website,

284. Most Appealing College Inn  in Western Massachusetts
A late spring blizzard made us grateful for the roaring fire in the pleasant lobby of The Lord Jeffrey Inn in Amherst, Massachusetts.  The rambling red brick inn is situated on a corner of an historic town common which seems not to have changed much in the last few decades--unlike Route 9, which stretches between Amherst and Northampton, where buccolic asparagus fields have given way to Old Navy and other big box stores.  The colonial-esque guest rooms at the Lord Jeff are comfortable, though certainly not stylish, and like most college inns, have miniscule bathrooms with the requisite gurgling plumbing.  But we liked the inn's location on the edge of the Amherst College campus:   From our window, we had a fine view of the goings-on the town green, including a late night operatic serenade by a lone student standing knee-deep in the snow.  Breakfasts at Elijah Boltwood's Tavern are hearty; in the evening we enjoyed  a brimming bowl of moules marineres.  One caveat:  Parking is on the street by permit only; during the storm we had to move our car to a campus lot to make way for snowplows.

The inn,  the town and the college are all named after Lord Jeffrey Amherst, a successful and well-regarded British general who captured Montreal from the French in 1760, becoming Governor General of British North America and, several years later, non-resident Governor of Virginia.  In 1772 he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the entire British Army, and acted as lead military advisor during the American Revolution.  The inn, which was not actually built until 1926, is situated on a parcel of land that once belonged to poet Emily Dickinson's family.   In 1954, the college threw a birthday bash there for Robert Frost, a sometime professor at Amherst, which was attended by such literary lions as Archibald MacLeish, Louis Untermeyer, and Thornton Wilder.  These days one is more likely to mingle with visiting scholars and parents.  Contact:  The Lord Jeffrey Inn, 30 Boltwood Avenue, Amherst, Massachusetts 01002.  Telephone:  (413) 253-2576 and (800) 742-0358. Fax:  (413) 256-6152.  Website:

283. A Good Tudor City Joint
You don’t think of restaurants and Tudor City, or even of that many good restaurants right at mid-town.  But here’s one definitely worth your while if you can bear a sometimes loud crowd and a decorator restaurant that is mostly hype and not aesthetic.  The owners have used a name designer but somehow he did not get to show his best.  The bar seems like a den of iniquity, and the tables in the main room are slam up against each other.  So we heard more than we wanted of two inane conversations, one to either side of us.  But co-owner Scott Conant has cooked around, and the food is absolutely smashing.  We tried everything-fish, pasta, fowl:  everything was great, full of taste, often original, and ample.  It’s Italian, but as the late Craig Claiborne used to say, you really can get great Italian on these shores.  We did not do the cheeses, incidentally, since that seemed as if it were gilding the lily twice over, but the restaurant does make a great deal out of them.  The wait staff and maitres are quite pleasant and polite, if not skilled.  Putting the trappings aside, L’Impero is a solid food experience, especially if you have just come in from another city where the top-ranked restaurants are missing body and taste.  L’Impero.  45 Tudor City Place.  New York, New York.  Telephone:  (212) 599-5045

282. Trout Around the World
James Prosek, who had done a lovely series of books about trout and fishing, is out with another gem, Fly-Fishing the 41st:  Around the World.  Beginning in 1998, he worked his way around the world in the 41st parallel, fishing as he went.  Turkey, Spain, Kyrgystan, and Japan all figure in his tale.  Be sure to see his other books as well such as:  Trout: An Illustrated History, Go Fish: Fishing Journal, Early Love and Brook Trout, and several others.

281. Top Sushi
Right now Sushi Yasuda is king of the mountain in New York sushi circles.  We have never seen our host, a retired Japanese investment banker and close friend, consume so much food, Western or Japanese, in our thirty year acquaintance.  We both mainly ate sashimi, topped off with a little sushi.  We did not find the art and cutting to be of the highest order, but the fish was top rate, and sometimes a bit unusual.  For instance, the trout hailed from Idaho.  The place is filled with a well-heeled, young yuppie crowd, unusual perhaps because easily half the diners are Asian, decked out in terribly smart and horribly expensive clothes.  As at another one of our recent dining sojourns in New York, our companion with some amazement toted the cost of the clothing on one near lass and it came to $3,000 or more, which let us know that the worldwide financial bubble has not completely deflated yet.  The restaurant has a most pleasing atmosphere:  it does not hold too big a crowd, and the natural wood finish of the place, a distinguishing mark in some of our other favorite Japanese restaurants these days, is soothing to the eye, even in the bright illumination.  If you can, sit up at the sushi bar, which, for a change, is comfortable; we must have put in 3 hours there.  Sushi Yasuda.  204 East 43d Street.  New York, New York 10017.  Telephone:  (212) 972-1717. Website:

280. Hostess Gifts
You are in New York and don’t want to buy the usual run of the gauche for your hostess.  Then give a try to Gracious Home (, which has a store on both the East and West sides.  It’s a step up from the houseware-cum-hardware stores you used to find in town, many of which have now gone under.  

We picked up assorted doodads—some unusual soaps, candles, a few how-to books, etc.—which won’t be found in the corner store or back home in Middletown, Ohio.  1Gracious Homes.  992 Broadway at 67th Street, (Telephone:  212-231-7800) or 1220, 1217, & 1201 3d Avenue at 70th Street (Telephone:  212-517-6300).

279. Boston Middle Eastern
Well, actually Cambridge.  Oleana is the sort of place that attracts graduate students, so it belongs on Harvard’s  side of the Charles.  We would return but we would also be a little cautious.  This restaurant has been hailed on all sorts of lists, inside and outside of Boston.  But we find many of the dishes both a bit overdone and a little on the sparse side.  Pick the simplest things, say, minced cucumber or something with the fewest adornments.  Also, go quite early, since this is a hot affair that attracts a very big crowd to a small place.  If you are there sixish, you may avoid the crowd and have more of a conversation.  Oleana.  134 Hampshire Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139.  Telephone:  (617) 661-0505.

278. Best Book About Tea
Last week, an unexpected twist led to a delightful conversation with James Norwood Pratt, America’s foremost authority on tea.  A native of Winston Salem, North Carolina and resident of San Francisco, Pratt is the author of The Tea Lover’s Treasury, a classic reference guide for nearly any lover of the leaf.  (Currently, that would include the 30 percent of all Americans who drink tea everyday; annual adult per capita consumption is about seven gallons.  Such brisk consumption,  Pierce Hollingsworth writes in Food Technology, makes tea a $4.75 billion industry that has grown a spritely 125 percent over the last decade.)

Since The Tea Lover’s Treasury was first published in 1982, we have consulted it often, dipping into its pages as much for Pratt’s engaging tales of the origins of the brew as for his vivid observations of different types of teas.  His writing is witty, occasionally poetic, always acute.  Here he is on Gyokuro Green Tea:  “If you imagine that a pale Green Tea has to be weak and flavorless, Gyokuro will surprise you.  It’s mouthfilling and rich, with a very complex herbaceous quality....  If the Chinese lean toward flavors somehow reminiscent of root vegetables in Green Tea, the Japanese just as surely prefer theirs to suggest brewed yard grass.  It’s a cleaner taste, you might say, but a thinner one, sometimes evanescent almost.”  The book is filled with many irresistible gems of information, such as the German ritual of parachuting in an early consignment of first flush, high grown Darjeeling tea, “a gesture that rather dwarfs the annual French enthusiasm for the Beajolais nouveau.”

Inexplicably, this valuable resource appears to be out of print, but  a few copies of both the first and second editions can be found at  In June, Pratt’s latest endeavor will make its appearance:  Tea Room Guide and Digest, a magazine that will embrace the entire world of tea, ranging from history and industry trends to antique teapot collecting, tea room reviews and tea travel tales.  With Pratt at the helm, it is likely to be a most pleasurable read.  Website:  Telephone:  800/578-0591.

277. Flowers that Never Fade
Right now the dogwoods are in full bloom, white blossoms hovering like clouds of butterflies in the newly emerging woodland.  Theirs is a fleeting beauty, all the more precious for the few weeks it lingers with us.  Soon the dogwood will give way to other woodland blooms, as Chinese fringe trees and native azaleas have their own moment of glory.

There is one place, though, where the flowers of spring never fade.  In two dimly lit halls on the 3rd floor of the Botanical Museum of Harvard University, there is a stunning permanent display of glass flowers.  They were commissioned by the university over a century ago from two sublimely talented German glass artisans, Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, who were also father and son.  From 1887 to 1936, the Blaschkas painstakingly created “847 models representing 780 species and varieties of plants in 164 families, with over 3,000 detailed models of enlarged flowers and anatomical sections of various floral and vegetative parts.”  (See The Glass Flowers at Harvard, Richard Evans Schultes and William A. Davis.  New York:  E.P. Dutton, 1982).  In all, the collection comprises  4,400 pieces, not all of which are on display at one time.

The glass flowers are a magnet for serious botanical students, but for the rest of us the experience of simply drifting through the aisles is a rare pleasure.  Here one finds a wild Mexican dahlia, complete with vivid yellow flowers and tuberous roots, as if it had just been plucked from the earth.  In a nearby case, one finds an exquisite red maple leaf.  It took Rudolph Blaschka 10 years to perfect its fiery hue; in the process he smashed many imperfect models, “scaling, full of flaws,” finally creating his own pigments to achieve a color that would not peel.  Plants run the gamut from the familiar to the exotic:  iris and nutmeg, morning glories and lotus blossoms.  But the most beautiful models may be the transverse and longitudinal sections of the each plant’s ovaries.  These pale translucent forms, many magnified 50 or 100 times, are dazzlingly kaleidoscopic.  Each is unique, proving the breadth and depth of nature’s diversity.  Contact:   Harvard Museum of Natural History, 26 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.  Telephone: 617/495-3045. Fax: 617/496-8206. Website:

276. Caribbean Furnishings Man
Better than a decade ago, when he was still affiliated with Lord & Taylor, we secured from Michael Connors the doors to the theater out of a Spanish castle and a large tile assemblage from Portugal that recalls the trading culture and great navigators that once graced that nation.  To wit, he had and has an eye for the unusual piece that adds a little romance to the hygienic offerings decorators usually put in houses these days.  So he is quite a bit more than “the nation’s foremost dealer in West Indian antiques of the Colonial era,”  though he has certainly made this look part of our vernacular now.  He helped design a line of West Indies reproductions for Baker Furniture.  And he has a book out called Caribbean Elegance, where he speaks of this style and its use in historic homes.  Much of this is recounted in “A Breeze Blows through the Drawing Room,” an article about him and the look in the New York Times, March 27, 2003, pp. D1 and D6.  We very much like the accidental way he got started in the West Indies.  On a ship that stopped at St. Croix “I fell in love with a gal there . . . and the ship left without me.” 

Update: Connors can be reached at Michael Connors Antiques, 39 Great Jones Street, New York, New York 10012.  Telephone-212-473-0377;  Fax-212-477-0096.  Website:  You can find on his website a companion book, entitled Cuban Elegance.

Update: Caribbean Houses
We think of Mike Connors as a furniture man.  We can still see the several rooms where he stored finds that always had a bit of dash to them.  He clearly likes furnishings that have some intricacy.  It’s easy to see why he likes Caribbean Houses, his journey back to imperial times when he explores the great houses still remaining from the era when the great European powers vied for outposts and power in the Caribbean. In fact, the luscious houses he pictures in his book are giant pieces of furniture in themselves, of beautifully tinted colors on the outside, every nook in and out covered with ornamentation which Connors chats about in loving detail.  Probably the lesson for the present age in all of this is that we can rethink the fenestration of our own dwellings with great profit.  The blank impassive surfaces favored by unimaginative developers, real estate magnates, and banal architects do not comport with those who celebrate and strive for warm domesticity which is all about details.  Such architecture is more conversational. (11-25-09)

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