Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Joy of Food- Julia Child's Boston

A slight breeze touched my face as I peered into the grocer’s window.   A pyramid of giant, orange pumpkins surrounded by their apple minions in red, green and yellow happily greeted passers-by, inviting them to stop, look and come inside.  I opened the door and stepped into the world of Julia Child. (Okay, for those readers who know the Savenor’s that Julia shopped is not on Charles Street I confess: exhaustion made me settle. I wanted to step inside the original shop, but time and energy prevented me from walking the extra two and a half miles across the Charles River to Kirkland Street in Cambridge.)
In 1963, Savenor’s door opened daily to Julia and her insatiable excitement for food.  She said, “You don't have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces - just good food from fresh ingredients.”  Savenor’s supplied her fresh ingredients and she shopped their store near her Cambridge, Massachusetts home each day before filming her cooking show, The French Chef.
The original Kirkland Street location opened in 1939 by Lithuanian immigrant, Ibrahim Savenor.  When Julia Child and her husband, Paul, moved to Cambridge in 1961, Julia made fast friends with Savenor’s son, Jack, while discussing their common passion, food.  Julia believed friends were the most important ingredient to a happy life and loved entertaining.  She wrote in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, “Just like becoming an expert in wine–you learn by drinking it, the best you can afford–you learn about great food by finding the best there is, whether simple or luxurious. Then, you savor it, analyze it, and discuss it with your companions, and you compare it with other experiences.”  Food was always meant to be shared and discussed with friends.

Alone, I stalked the rows of Savenor’s simple and luxurious food.  Fresh fruits and veggies encased in wooden bins.  Signature sauces and rubs lined three shelves.  The back wall contained the meats.  Beef bones, beef cheeks, beef ribs- every beef imaginable was lovingly placed in the case by the butcher giving understanding to Child’s quote about her friend, Jack Savenor, “Every woman should kiss their butcher.”  Lamb chops, pork belly, and chicken legs were ready for all the servant-less cooks of Boston.  They just needed the courage of their convictions to choose.  I was drawn to one cooler door by its sign: fats and lards.  Duck fat, goose fat, rendered lard.  Oh, my!  And I thought my sweet southern grandmother backward for insisting on cooking with lard rather than Crisco.  Savenor’s sold lard by each perfected ounce.  Greg swore by it stating simply, “Fat equals flavor.”  I smiled as I closed the cooler door; Julia Child would have loved my Greg.
The Manchester
After ogling the game and specialty meats- they sold kangaroo, ostrich, python, and a variety of others- I made my way to the sandwich counter for dinner. Our first night in Boston had been spent paying homage to history at America’s oldest restaurant,  The Union Oyster House, which has been in continuous operation as a restaurant since 1826.  We sat in the Kennedy booth, JFK’s favorite spot, and enjoyed some “wicked-good chowda,” but we dined on straight forward seafood.  I was hoping to experiment with some take-out from Julia’s gourmet purveyor.  Twenty minutes later, I walked back up Charles Street with cheese, grapes, olives and three sandwiches for our family to share: the Arricia- house-made porketta and house pickled fennel drizzled with  local honey on an Iggy’s farmhouse roll, the Manchester- double smoked bacon, fresh avocado, vine-ripened tomato, fresh mixed greens, and spicy aioli on Iggy’s cibatta roll, and the Toulouse- crisped duck confit, pickled root vegetables, sautéed savoy cabbage with pancetta, and spicy aioli on an Iggy’s torta roll.  Julia would have been pleased, especially since I discovered through Savenor’s an unknown source: Iggy’s Bread of the World.  

Iggy’s was the dream child of Igor and Ludmilla Ivanovic (yes, those are their real names) after the couple met while working at Eli’s Bakery in New York.  They fell in love with bread and each other, moved to Massachusetts and created their family business. For eighteen years, they have been baking breads for restaurants, farmer’s markets and kitchen tables out of their Cambridge store.  The Savenor’s folks shared the couple’s love of bread story with me while they layered, spiced and sliced our sandwiches.  Simple and luxurious ingredients on fresh bread.  Who could ask for more?

Greg could.  “You only got three sandwiches? I’m starving.”

“I thought that would be enough for us.  We had those huge Boston Barkers for lunch.”

“Hey, we toured all of Fenway Park and walked from the harbor to the hotel and half the Freedom Trail today.  Your two meals of brunch and lupper are not cutting it for me,” Greg said before taking a huge bite of the Manchester.

The kids devoured the other two sandwiches while I nibbled the grapes and cheese. I nicked one bite from Wyatt and almost lost a finger.  Greg begrudgingly handed over the other half of his sandwich to Anabel and said, “Let’s check out Chinatown for dinner.  Kids, do y’all want to come?”

Anabel was the first to pipe up. “We’re good.” Their little legs could only take so much, but their mouths were still going.  They finished the cheese and grapes while waiting on the shower.

I tucked each into bed with a book before Greg and I headed across the street to Boston’s Chinatown.  I knew nothing about this area having researched American history and Julia Child for this trip, but Greg had clearly done his homework as he marched us passed several delightful looking restaurants to a basement establishment called The Best Little Restaurant.  

With high hopes for the food, I noted they were not named the Best Little Decorated Restaurant.  Clean, white table cloths were as far as their decor went.  We were seated in the back near a table of six Chinese businessmen.  I entertained Greg with each man’s role in the Chinese mafia while he chose our dishes.  I had no idea what was coming, but the waiter smiled as Greg ordered.

When the platter of chicken feet arrived at our table, I understood the waiter’s amusement. “Did you mean to order this?” I asked.  I wanted to try new foods, but this was crossing the line.

“Yes! This looks awesome!” Greg dived in.

“Are you kidding me?  It’s jellied chicken feet!” Then, I thought, “What would Julia do? If Paul had ordered her a plate of chicken feet, she would have eaten it with  pleasure.”  I stared at the platter.  The feet glistened in the romantic glow of florescent lights.  They jiggled on their journey from the platter to Greg’s plate.  He forked one and brought it to his lips.  I could hear it squish between his teeth.  Screw Julia.  I was not trying the chicken feet.

I sated my hunger with Greg’s other choices: lobster with ginger and scallions and spareribs with garlic sauce. The delicate lobster melted in my mouth without squishing. The crisp, caramelized coating on the outside of ribs punctuated our discussion of the Cantonese food with crunches and smacks. We declared it wasn’t the best little Chinese food we’d ever eaten, but it was damn good.
With tummies full, we walked back to our hotel tying up our many threads of conversation before returning to the kids.  From the Green Monster to the toiling at MIT, from Savenor’s shelves to the fictitious machinations of Boston’s Chinese mafia, we talked without interruption. It was bliss.

Stealing a line from Julia and Paul Child, I said, “You are the bread to my butter; the breath to my life.” 

“And you are the cheese to this conversation.”

“Ah!  Thanks, Honey.”

 Julia was right. Everything- except chicken feet- tasted better when shared with your best friend.     


  1. Jenny, I love the blog! So glad I found it while giving you respite from the world of ISS.

  2. Thanks for reading, Susan! All the best wishes for a world without ISS!


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