seashore & folklore
Why leave the beach when the cream puff bar can come to you? Last week we found ourselves in such a lucky position, savoring the roar of the waves and later sipping wine in Tina and Al's beautiful home in Monmouth Beach, ocean to our East and the Shrewsbury River to our West. Missy arrived with a myriad of plastic baggies filled with the makings for some of the best sides this side of the Atlantic—lovely salads, both arugula with fennel and cucumber, velvety garlic and parmesan mushrooms to accompany Al's grilled DelMonico steaks, and a delicious spinach parmesan orzo. There was also a terrific butter bubble bread, redolent with garlic and I found myself into a week's worth of WW rollover points long before the array of pastries, cakes, and cookies that Suzanne showed up with from her Manhattan hometown.
You know a meal is going to finish well when there is a bag from Magnolia Bakery and a sleeve of mini cream puffs from Barachou(bar-a-shoo) the lovely upper West Side shop run by Rebecca Tison, a former Parisian now making outstanding mini cream puffs in flavors like hazelnut, pistachio, passion fruit, peach, raspberry, and whipped cream. In my effort to be a polite guest I tasted a few halved pieces that were being passed around but could have easily demolished the entire sleeve on my own. The standout from the Magnolia selection was their famous Banana Pudding, the one with a million copy-cat recipes on the internet and available for nationwide shipping through Goldbelly.
I love any town on the Jersey shore and Monmouth Beach, first settled in 1668, is one of them. Growing into a community with the arrival of the Long Branch and SeaShore Railroad line, Monmouth Beach experienced its glory days from 1870-1920 in the era known as the Gilded Age, marked by economic prosperity in the United States. That's when the extravagant homes of the rich, famous, and powerful were first built in Monmouth Beach, also America's first real seashore resort. When President Ulysses S. Grant visited in 1868 he fell in love with the area and 6 more presidents would vacation there. But it was the visit of first lady Mary Todd Lincoln in 1861 that really "put the city on the map."
A week of rainy days has passed since our day at Monmouth Beach and I'm longing for more hours near the ocean, planting our umbrella in the sand, savoring a summer read, and salutary walks in the surf. We will be staking out our private paradise along the bay in Stone Harbor, where Taylor Swift once sang karaoke at Henny's (the once iconic dining spot, now a boutique spa) and played acoustic jams at Coffee Talk (still there). This year, I'll be synching my AirPods to Swift's folklore which dropped on July 24, a surprise release announced on Swift's social media just 16 hours before launch. Entirely recorded during the pandemic, Swift describes the album as "a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness." It is an imaginative and introspective album-- described, in turns, as nostalgic, cinematic, and sparse. It may just be the right soundtrack for a week at the beach in 2020 when our vacations feel just as much about sanctuary as they do escapism—shelter from this pandemic-related storm.