The American Southwest in Late Summer???

  Heritage Culinary Artifacts     The American Southwest in late summer?? Good God, it’s 10pm and it’s still fucking roasting.  What was I thinking exploring this part of the world in the heat of summer? 
For better or worse, I’m road-trippin’ to an antiques show in the Hill Country of eastern Texas, hoping to find a few treasures for my shop, Heritage Culinary Artifacts in Napa Valley. 
I decided to tuck into Palm Springs for the first evening,
after a day spent behind the wheel, sticking to the leather seats in my German tank and watching the temperature climb well over 100°.   There is a certain shabbiness to Palm Springs that’s oddly alluring. The peaceful Korakia Pensione is situated at the base of a mountain, a few blocks off the main drag. Casual and quiet, the hotel is reminiscent of Morocco, with stone courtyards, afternoon mint tea service, and brilliant pink bougainvillea flowers spilling into the pools.

  Each evening, the staff lights the many outdoor fireplaces, lanterns and fire pits, their glow reflecting off the pools and splashing fountains.  
I set a clumsy dinner table on the patio in the piping desert air; pulling the cork on a chilled bottle of old red Burgundy I brought along, opening containers of garlicy broccoli and greasy duck ordered from a near-by Chinese joint, and staring up at the purple-black sky.
The next morning, I made the rounds at a few galleries, known for their exceptional mid-century modern design.  As one former Palm Springs aficionado sang in 1961, Ring-a-ding-ding!! 

  What better for my first find than a terra cotta wild boar terrine?  In flawless condition, this fierce beauty’s head comes off completely, making it the ideal vessel for rich stews, hearty soups and ragùs made with said swine.  Measures 16" in length, from head to snout.  $265  

  A dozen crystal salts once graced a fine dining table in a modernist house in Palm Springs.  How did I get my hands on them, you ask?  Twelve pieces, each unique and all in wonderful condition. Set ($325)   A very handsome, double-sided, cast iron pot rack with an Art Deco aesthetic.  Hang with chains to accommodate your copper skillets, garlic braids, poorly behaved children, and pepper bunches.  American, early 1900s. Measures 48" in length.  ($1150)
I gassed up for the day ahead (gulp…$4.55 a gallon!!).
I’m always surprised at how quickly time passes on the road.  Sometimes I gab on the phone to old friends, sometimes I listen to local radio, (always highly entertaining in rural areas).  Sometimes Maria Callas or David Sedaris keep me company.  But mostly the time is spent in silence, wrestling my inner voices or merely staring at the passing countryside.  

I pushed onto Tucson, Arizona; the day’s highlights included passing Sore Finger Road, watching the thermometer reach 118°, and listening to a Willie Nelson-athon.  A couple of hours before sunset, I gratefully pulled into Ventana Canyon Resort, nestled against the base of Tucson’s Santa Catalina Mountains.   My grandparents, Manga and Gimpa, used to bring me to this lovely, deco-inspired hotel, allowing me to sip scotch and smoke cigarettes with them in the lounge, its enormous windows framing the mountains. 
  I recalled feeling so mature during my under-aged visits with them.   My nostalgia was short-lived as I was melting from the heat.  I stripped off my sticky sundress and quickly located the enormous pool, kept delightfully cooler than the air.  I floated for a good hour, watching the swallows emerge from their nests to refresh themselves in the waters, while the darkening silhouettes of thousands of saguaro cacti on the mountains waved their prickly green arms at me.   Braving a hot wind, I sat outside for dinner at the hotel’s Flying V Restaurant, requesting the bartender choose a good tequila from his impressive list, and serve it neat.  The waiter prepared a large earthenware bowl of guacamole tableside (extra jalapeño, please) and served it with thick, salty chips.   Divine.   I awoke early to hike magestic Sabino Canyon, only to be told that it was closed.  The state worried about a repeat of the wildfires that had plagued the northern part of the state all summer.  Instead, a sobering swim and a cup of shitty Lipton tea before visiting a couple of AZ antique dealers.  
  Fashioned from brass and antler, this bottle opener sits well in the hand.  Clearly, the artisan who made this put a good deal of thought into its creation.  The dragon’s head opens the bottle and the tail sports a carved brass flourish.  A fine piece measuring 9" in length.  ($85)
  My eye caught this wonderful set of mother of pearl-handled cheese knives.  In very fine condition with lustrous handles and sterling silver ferrules.  San Francisco, 1940s-1950s.  Set of six ($145)   Given the fact that Mexico was only a stone’s throw away, I assumed I’d find many wonderful examples of Mexican pottery.  Instead, I found only one superb piece:  a figural covered terrine.  This chicken makes me smile everytime I spy her!  Hand painted with vivid colors and in great condition, she measures 9" long, 7" wide and 7" tall.  Mexico, 1930s-1940s  ($210)
  Departing Arizona and continuing eastward, I watched as the sun set over west Texas in my rear view mirror.  It was now just the truckers (God bless ‘em) and me.  I hate driving at night. Getting old.    I stopped earlier at The Rib Hut (you can’t beat their meat!) in El Paso and took-away a rack of pork ribs and a pint of cole slaw, the latter of which appears to serve as a vegetable in these parts.  I got a room at the Van Horn Best Western Motel, parking right outside my door.  Hauled in my overnight bag, the ribs and ‘salad’, and a bottle of wine.  I always bring along a couple (or four) bottles of wine on a road trip, particularly if the area is not known for its gastronomic largess.    “What kinda dressin’ you want on that iceberg, sweetie?”   But truly?  I brought red wine to Texas in the blaze of summer?  What was I thinking about?   The Pinots I brought were all seeping, a sure sign the bottles got too warm and the wine expanded, forcing out their corks.  I filled my room’s wastebasket at the ice machine and plunged a warm Boillot Volnay deep into an icy bath.  I was hoping the 14-year old wine was mature enough to be nicely lean and acidic and any warmth from its car-cookin’ would only lend to a more supple mouthfeel.    But it truly didn’t matter.    I was gonna chill the shit out of it anyway.    I cranked the ancient AC to its highest setting and turned on the television.  What luck!  Valentino, The Last Emperor was playing; a wonderfully entertaining documentary about the Italian clothing designer and his VERY high-flying life.  
  I’m watching this imperious, talented little man dress a very tall, very thin Italian model in swaths of silk… while I’m sitting in a motel room in some Texas town, sweaty and half-naked, eating ribs with my sticky fingers and drinking cooked wine out of a plastic cup, its bottle chilling in a garbage basket.   Early the next morning, I went looking for breakfast, asking a local for his recommendation.
“Waaaall, little lady, I think you can git a coupla them breakfast burritos at the Conoco station up thar street.”   Lucky for me, I spied a row of pick-up trucks parked outside a large log cabin with a long porch.  I scored a breakfast of strong, black coffee and homemade biscuits with fresh, salty whipped butter and Texas honey squeezed from a bear.   Gassing up for the last of the ride at a small pump in a decrepit station, an enormous truck open to the sun and filled with two stories of bleating lambs pulled in next to me.  Were they coming or going?  I spent the day driving, watching for small tornedos of sand in the far, high desert hills, and listening to a pensive Tracy Chapman and the exuberant Franz Liszt   The Texas antique shows were great fun, displaying wonderful early Americana and a mix of industrial and European design.  
  Hunting and fishing are big pursuits in Texas.  This superb metal match keeper and match strike is designed after a fishing creel or basket. American, late 1800s - early 1900s. Fine condition, measuring 5" in length and 3.5" across  ($285)  
  Scored from an older woman who specialized in early Americana and primitives, this cookie press was originally used to produce cookies for weddings and religious ceremonies.  In two pieces: the base was used for rolling dough and top is quite heavy; it’s weighted to create the indentation.  Highly unusual and well done; a rare piece in wonderful condition. Measuring 16" diameter.  American 1820-1830s.  ($645)     Living in Napa Valley surrounded by the fruit of the vine, I am always looking for fine grape shears.  Produced by artisans in the late 1800s during The Victorian period, grape scissors were very popular, as it was considered poor manners to touch food with one’s hands.  Quite fittingly, London’s Victoria & Albert Museum notes:  “With a few exceptions (such as for eating bread and some fruit), touching food with the fingers was frowned upon, and diners were presented with an alarming and growing range of specialist utensils for eating particular foods. It was important to be able to recognize items such as nut picks, sardine tongs and grape scissors, and to know how to use them correctly.” These wonderful grape scissors are made from high quality silver plate.  In superlative condition.   ($210)  

  Hot, famished, and tired of shopping and shlepping, I took an early Saturday evening supper at the Gold n’ Crisp Fried Chicken Shack.
Two perfectly cooked, heavenly plump breasts - meaty, succulent and piping hot from the fryer - were indecently (shield your eyes, kids!) consumed at an immaculate picnic bench painted bright white, and accompanied by an unsweetened iced tea with loads of lemon. 
As the last bites were savored in the languid heat while overlooking the train tracks and a lush cemetery, I realized this fried chicken meal will now be my benchmark for all others.   Drove to Austin and met up with my travel mate, who graciously agreed to do the return trip with me.  Before the long ride home, we holed up for a few days at the sleek, minimal Hotel San Jose in the heart of this funky city.  Spent the first evening together cooling ourselves in the small pool hidden by towers of bamboo, while sipping from a tall pitcher of icy sangria loaded with fruit, and giggling until late.   Austin yielded some fabulous finds:  
  This beer stein is highly unusual with amazing detailing.  One one side reads “Gaudeamus Igitur” meaning “So Let Us Rejoice”.  The opposite side reads “Juvenesdum Sumus” meaning “While we are Young”, a familiar refrain sung at University and penned in the early 18th century.  Measures 8.5" across and 6.5" tall.  Germany, early part of the 1900s  ($425)     This set of carved wood bowls, each with carved bull’s head on legs supporting the bowls, screams Texas!  The large mixing bowl measures 13" diameter and the five smaller bowls measure 6" diameter each.  For mixing steak tartare or a salad with equal aplomb! Texas, mid 1900s.  Set of six pieces ($65)  
Lunch included a drive to Lockhart, TX, landing at Smitty’s BBQ, the stuff of legends (as I reminded my travel mate, a former vegetarian).   It was well over 100° at high noon as we sauntered through the swinging screen doors, taking a moment to allow our eyes to focus in the dark hallway.  The smell of smoke enveloped us as we took in the scene:  a dark, cavernous space housing a meat market, a butchering room, and several fires blazing on the brick floors, each with a its own smoke box filled with Flinstone-like hunks of meat and tended to by burly men.  The entire back lot was covered in neatly stacked, aged firewood.   Waiting in line near one of the smoldering pits, I was reminded of Dante’s blazing misery.  But if this was hell, it wasn’t like the Sisters of Divine Providence explained it.
The aromas were powerful:  wood, smoke, roasted meat, sweet spices, dark earth, sweat.   The lady at the register took our order for a slab of pork ribs, which were split to order with a large cleaver, tossed onto a big rip of butcher paper, and weighed on a meat scale. 
We took our prized lunch into their brightly lit cafeteria, blessedly air-conditioned, and found a couple of free seats.  Armed with a handful of napkins and unsweetened iced teas, we sat and ate every damn morsel off those long, lovely, dry-rubbed bones.    It was a very fine and singularly Texan experience.    
      Leaving the very hip art community of Marfa, TX one early morning, we pulled up to a border patrol, manned by Homeland Security and complete with German shepherd; a rather unnerving site common in the state.  The dog must have smelled something emanating from my bug-splattered car, as he went wild. 
We were told to pull over and step out of the car, now brimming with antiques.    We sat on a small bench, watching the yapping dog and a large Federal officer dig through my car.  Of course, the dog went right for my toiletry bag, where I had buried a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency travel joint.
“I’m gonna slap the shit out of you,” hissed my road-mate.   I don’t know if the guy found the joint and decided to look the other way so as not to tie himself up in endless paperwork over something so insignificant – or he genuinely missed it, but we were eventually waved on.  Of course, in order to calm our nerves, we both smoked that last spliff on our way out of town, burying the roach remains in the high Texas desert.
  If any of the treasures in this newsletter move you, write to me.  May I be of assistance?  Contact me directly at and I would be very pleased to discuss details. 
Please know each items is unique and one-of-a-kind,  so when they’re gone, they are gone. 
I will do my best to fulfill your wishes.
  Until next time.