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Friday, November 11, 2011

Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Café and Cookbook

One good thing about living in Albany is the proximity to so many other great places to visit like NYC, the Berkshires, Cooperstown, Montreal, and Boston. About a year and a half ago some of my Study Abroad companions and I reunited for a weekend filled with cultural activities.

I brought British themed snacks.


We had a Mad Men inspired fashion show.


We visited the Boston Public Library and a great vintage travel poster show.




We went to a great Italian restaurant in the North End.

And we visited the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and Café. Unfortunately, it looks like the café is closed right at this moment for renovations, but when we were there it was open. I love that museum. It is so eclectic, so intimate, so personal. It is not formal or stuffy. Also there is the mystery of the stolen paintings, that I (as a person who works in museums) find completely fascinating. I find the subject so fascinating that I read books meant for teenagers about the subject. The café was really great. I had gazpacho that was crisp and refreshing. My friends had a curry chicken salad with pecans. Sparrows scurried by outside in the garden. It was a small space, but brightly lit and a modern, minimalist contrast to the cluttered, vibrant museum walls. I was such a fan of the gazpacho, that when we got to the museum shop and my friend saw the cookbook she held it up from across the shop and said "You have to get this!"

So I bought it and I have loved that book so much all this time. It has a selection of tarts, quiches, salads, and lots of old timey New England sounding things like apples and cheddar in several dishes. The recipes are mixed in with archival photos from the museum of Gardner throwing dinner parties (fabulous!) and socializing. All these recipes seem from a different time period entirely, and sometimes I just like to sit and read this book, even though it is a lot smaller than most cookbooks I have. I love the chilled cucumber soup, stuffed mushrooms, artichoke cheese pie, apple and cheddar quiche, tourtiere and many more. The author is not afraid to use lots of shallots in things, which I love. There are many recipes I want to try and haven't - veal and tomato mousse, things that fluff up the fish similar to this Dorie Greenspan recipe, ground beef with raisins and spices, peppers and cabbage stuffed with things. There is also a smoked salmon cream cheese pie that sounds very fun to try. I love this kind of cooking. If I were wealthy I would totally open up a quiche/chilled soup/scone/vintage mismatched china sort of place called Amelie's and rent out the banquet room for bridal showers, but alas I am not.  

I read in the New York Times the other day about the decline of the cookbook now that people can bring an ipad in the kitchen. And while I will admit to last night bringing the laptop into the kitchen to read this recipe, I will defend cookbooks. Because to me, that collection of recipes binds together moments in one's life. I've cooked up whole parties from this cookbook. I have specific memories associated with many different recipes, and I can pick it up and revisit the very same recipes any time. A book becomes a living part of your kitchen, whereas things you found online can be forgotten easily (the exception being many Cook's Illustrated recipes we've printed and used for years). A cookbook is a souvenir not just of the time you bought it, but of all the times you used it. So for me, every time I use the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum cookbook I'll think of our very fun trip, our awesome Mad Men fashion show, comparing engagement rings, eating ridiculously overpriced cupcakes in the Back Bay and our summer in London all over again.

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