During the holidays Steve and I have received a couple of special presents. As the Kings Hand Laundry properties are being cleaned and organized several small gifts have popped up. Two of them came in small boxes wrapped in crisp red wrapping paper. We took them home, gave one to Mom and kept the other. As we examined the wrapping, Steve recalled it was the same type of Christmas wrapping paper his father, Bill, used in his gift store, Kings Stationers. A sprig of pine needles was attached to the bow. The store sticker on the box made me smile, “Nateva’s.” Nateva Solomon owned an elegant gift shop located in Hanford’s downtown on Seventh Street until the mid 1980s.
Kings Stationers and Nateva’s somewhat resembled each other – they both had bridal registries, a Spice Islands spice rack, and Sunset books. Kings Stationers was a bit edgier with inflatable couches and risqué greeting cards. Nateva’s carried many specialty foods. I remember shopping there for dried pastas and one shopping trip included the purchase of a package of dried chocolate pasta.
Prior to opening the gift shop in Hanford, Nateva owned a dress shop in Lemoore. Steve has a vivid memory of this shop. In the corner of the shop Nateva set aside a small area with toys for children to play with while their mothers shopped. During one shopping excursion with his mother, little Steve was content to play with the toys for some time but eventually decided it was time to leave. He’d had enough of the dress shop. He went to get his mother out of the dressing room, but when he crawled under the dressing room door, it was not — much to his own and the surprise of another woman— his mother he found standing there.
A few days after Steve recounted this story, I found myself running my finger over the “Nateva’s” sticker and giggling again at the remembrance of Steve’s dress shop adventure. I thought of the dress shop Auntie Ann owned, Tina’s, along with the other dress shops that lined Seventh Street, Mirviss’s, Case’s, and Vogue. I went into these shops as a child, watching my mother pick out and try on clothing. As a teenager and young adult, I shopped there on my own.
I grew up with the Kings Stationers and Nateva’s proprietors. Nateva and Jerry were regulars at my family’s Imperial Dynasty restaurant, as were Bill and Gladys, and then Bill and Sharon.
All of this reminiscing was making me wistful and a little bit sad. I began to miss many people and places that are now gone. It probably didn’t help that earlier that day I had thumbed through a news magazine’s “Year in Pictures” issue, which I had to stop because tears were running down my face and I was close to having a meltdown. The year 2020 in pictures made it kind of hard to hang onto hope for 2021.
I put the “Nateva’s” wrapping paper down. I needed to pull myself out of the nostalgic vortex that was making me melancholy. I needed some comfort. Some comfort food. In the kitchen, I closed my eyes, did I want rice, noodles, or dumplings? No, none of them. I wanted stew. And I knew exactly which stew recipe I needed to make, a Dijon and cognac beef stew.
Similar to a 1980s Bon Appetit recipe that I used to make, this recipe from the New York Times has stuck with me since it was published because of the accompanying column. Written by Regina Schrambling on September 19, 2001, it was the time of those heavy, dismal days that followed the attacks on the World Trade Center.
Schrambling wrote about the difference between cooking and fixing food. She wrote: “One is a fulfilling project. The other involves combing easy ingredients. Quesadillas are food you fix. Stew is cooking. It’s instant gratification versus satisfaction that builds slowly and stays with you.”
But it is her column’s closing words that have stayed with me all of these years. “Whoever said cooking should be entered into with abandon or not at all had it all wrong. Going into it when you have no hope is sometimes just what you need to get to a better place. Long before there were antidepressants, there was stew.”
I’m sharing the recipe for Dijon and Cognac Stew this week. The sauce is exceptionally savory with great depth of flavor. It’s not a quick put together stew. There is chopping and slicing involved, but I like the meditative qualities these steps evoke. I have also sliced the meat and vegetables the day before. This recipe is perfect as written, but this last time I made it I had to make some substitutions. These days (months?) there are no quick trips to the grocery store to pick up a few missing ingredients. I didn’t have shallots so I used an extra onion and added some garlic. I also threw in a cup of frozen peas because I was cleaning out the freezer, which brings me full circle, back to the Kings Hand Laundry clean out and the two little discovered gifts.
Oh, you ask, what was underneath the crisp red wrapping paper? Mom found in hers a coin purse with lots of pockets and a key chain attachment. Ours unveiled a shoe shine/buffer sponge.
Happy New Year, dear readers! Let’s keep on hanging on to hope through all of our year-end memories and reviews, any sadness or nostalgia that arises, beyond potential or actual meltdowns.
Arianne Wing is the co-author of “Noodles Through Escargots,” and co-owner of the L.T. Sue Co. Tea Room and Emporium, benefiting the restoration and preservation of China Alley. She may be reached at email@example.com
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