Saturday, February 18, 2012

New Jersey Weekend Diary: Journal Writing, A Five and Dime Shop, Estate Sales and the Bendix Diner

Friday Night, February 10: Won a gorgeous diary in a tricky tray raffle with some other goodies (hand crafted coasters with apples on them, a sweatshirt which will come in handy for cool morning walks on the local high school track, instant coffee from Vietnam which I'll use at work instead of those horribly wasteful Keurig coffee pods) at a Hackensack Riverkeeper volunteer appreciation party. There was a nautical theme, and thought of the Keeping Up Appearances episode when Hyacinth invites everyone for nautical buffet on the Contessa 2, her son Sheridan's friend's "yacht" which turns out to be a dumpy old boat.

Not many entries for the journal. Historian David McCullough suggested to keep a journal since no one keeps them anymore. He said some historian will come across it and say, "Look a journal from someone in the 21st century!"

The diary looked really old fashioned, which was what drew me to it. Thought about your pioneer foremothers on the trail documenting the world around them for the ages. Wanting to record my life on paper form for permanence. Got an e-mail reply, "Sent from my mobile device, please excuse the brevity." Thought words are too beautiful for brevity.

Won all those great prizes, and sad I didn't also win the hand crafted clock with birds on them or the throw blanket with ducks. Talk about greedy!

Saturday, February 11: usual stops at Trader Joe's, the thrift shops and such. After failing to find a Valentine's Day card for Steve at the thrift shop (yes, I'm that cheap!), got one at the Five and Dime shop in Westwood. I still remembering going there as a kid to buy a pencil box and paste. Hope kids still have pencil boxes and paste in their lives today. Hope five and dime stores will always exist.

Sunday, February 12. Steve and I are still in our estate sale phase. Not politically correct to say as an environmentalist, but I confess: I love a Sunday drive.

Noticed how in almost every home an old sewing machine is to be found, and of course all the "Made in the USA" and union labels on clothes from just a few decades ago. That morning caught a CBS Sunday Morning segment about people using social media to protest changes corporate America was making. Some were valid, others ridiculous, like customers of the GAP clothing chain in an uproar over a proposed change to their corporate logo. Wish their customers would get in an uproar the majority of the clothes are made abroad in countries we couldn't find on a map by who-knows what kind of labor. Thought in the scheme of things, a logo isn't that important.

Had some cheese, bread, and Orangina to snack on to save money during our drive, but couldn't resist stopping by the Bendix Diner on Route 17 in Hasbrouck Heights. Diners were on my mind: I had read a New York Times article about the Miss Albany diner closing in Albany, New York.

Something about counters at diners just pulls on my heartstrings. It's so wonderfully Americana. Like walking into many of the homes at estate sales, coming in here was like time traveling. I looked out the window and reflected how much change has occurred around this diner. The television was on. The lead story was the death of New Jersey native singer Whitney Houston.

Steve had French toast. Per usual, history loving dorky me looked up more about French toast from,

"The popular history behind French toast (aka German toast, American toast, Spanish toast, Nun's toast, Cream toast, Breakfast toast, Mennonite toast, Pain Perdu, Panperdy, Arme Ritter, Suppe Dorate, Amarilla, Poor Knights of Windsor) is that it was created by medieval European cooks who needed to use every bit of food they could find to feed their families. They knew old, stale bread (French term "pain perdu" literally means lost bread) could be revived when moistened with milk and enriched with eggs. The traditional method of cookery was on a hot griddle prepped with a little fat (butter, oil). Quite like today.

Actually, recipes for "French toast" can be traced Ancient Roman times. Apicius simply calls it "Another sweet dish." Linguistic evidence confirms the connection, as one of the original French names for this dish is "Pain a la Romaine," or Roman bread. Culinary evidence confirms "French toast" was not just a food of the poor. Recipes printed in ancient and medieval texts employed white bread (the very finest, most expensive bread available at the time) with the crusts cut off. In many cases, expensive spices and almond milk were listed as ingredients. This is not something a poor, hungry person would have eaten. It is also important to note that until very recently, cook books were not written for the the "average" person. Only the noble, wealthy, and religious leaders were taught to read. The recipes contained in them reflect the meals of the upper classes."

Comfort food: my lentil soup and grilled cheese with tomato.

Chatted with the engaging young man whose family owns the diner which he said has been there for more than 70 years. Got into a conversation about how under appreciated beets are and he recommended roasting them. Made a silent vow to try roasted beets. Remembered my American West road trip and all the interactions we had. Wanted to have more like the ones we were having now. What were other Americans thinking? He was sad diners are dying out. We are too. One in Westwood just got bulldozed to the ground and will soon be a CVS pharmacy. Sigh.

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