The grass is always greener

I’m having an Eva Gabor moment. I blame my brother.

This all came about because, as of June 12th, our parents have been married for fifty years. My brother and I decided that this would be the year to jettison our life-long tradition of ignoring their anniversary and actually do something nice for them.

My parents spend summers on the Cape, and they were due to arrive yesterday. As a surprise, Aaron and his wife, Lisa, came up from Manhattan by train on Friday, and we planned dinner on Saturday night at The Red Pheasant, one of our favorite local restaurants.

Aaron and Lisa don’t visit often, and we wanted to show them a good time in the 24 hours we had before my parents were due to arrive. Our idea of a good time was to drag them out of bed at 5:30 AM to make them go haul lobster pots.

They were game, but Lisa was worried about the timing. “What time will we be back?”

I told her it took less than three hours, door to door, so we’d be back before nine. “That should be ok,” she said.

Ok for what?

For the delivery of smoked fish from Barney Greengrass.

Smoked fish from Barney Greengrass!

On the off-chance you’re not familiar with Barney Greengrass, let me explain. Barney Greengrass, The Sturgeon King, is a smoked-fish institution on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. My parents, my brother, and I were all regulars when we lived in New York (Aaron still is), although we didn’t often go together.

I didn’t realize that Aaron went at all until one day when I arranged to meet him there for lunch. “Hi Aaron,” the waiter, Adam, said as we walked in. Then he looked at me, puzzled. “You two know each other?”

My parents and I have discovered that it’s very hard to find good smoked fish outside New York. There wasn’t any in San Francisco when I lived there, and I haven’t had any on Cape Cod, although I’ve heard rumors of a place in Chatham. My parents haven’t found any in Miami Beach, where they live when they’re not here, which is why they get a delivery from Barney Greengrass once a year, on Christmas Eve day, for their traditional smoked-fish brunch.  Aaron’s idea to have Greengrass delivered was genius.

Yesterday I picked my parents up in Sagamore, where they’d taken the bus from Logan. I drove them to their cottage, in Sandwich, and we started unpacking. We’d been there about twenty minutes when Kevin arrived.

“Kevin!” my parents said, greeting him with enthusiasm. They like Kevin.

Then Aaron came out the passenger door.

“Aaron!” They were very surprised, which was gratifying.

Then Lisa climbed out from the back of the cab.

“Lisa!” They were very, very surprised. Also gratifiying.

Aaron took the Barney Greengrass box, which had arrived that morning, out of the bed of the truck, and told my parents what it was.

It’s fair to say they were floored.

It’s fair to say they were floored.

The fish needed to go in the refrigerator, so my mother opened the box. She took out bag after bag after bag. There was what looked to be three pounds of Eastern Nova lox. There a was a big package of sable (smoked black cod), and a flat of kippered salmon. There were pickles and sour tomatoes, bagels and two kinds of cream cheese. There was a huge container of the chocolate-covered halvah bars my father is particularly fond of.

“My God, that’s a lot of fish,” my mother said.

Aaron hadn’t been sure what kind of fish my parents liked, but he knew they placed a brunch order every December, so he asked Gary Greengrass simply to send whatever it was that they usually ordered for themselves.

He didn’t know that their brunch was for sixteen.

“You’re going to have to join us for breakfast,” my parents said.

We could do that.

Then we told them we were taking them to The Red Pheasant for an anniversary dinner, and we were off.

We had a lovely meal. The Red Pheasant does game, duck, and fish beautifully, and they have an excellent wine list to boot. Denise Atwood, the charming, vivacious proprietor (her husband, Bill, is the chef), arranged with the pastry chef to do a beautiful chocolate ganache cake for dessert. It was a meal that did justice to the occasion.

This morning, we showed up at my parents’ cottage for breakfast We opened the Barney Greengrass packages and toasted the bagels. We sat down to eat, and I surveyed the table.

I miss this, is what I thought. I really miss this.

It’s all well and good to work the soil and catch our own lobsters, to grow mushrooms and make sea salt. There’s challenge there, as well as gratification and really good food. But I miss lox. I miss living in a place where I can walk fifteen blocks and get lox, from a place that’s been there for a hundred years, from a guy who knows who I am and how I like my coffee. If it’s raining, I can take the subway. I miss the subway almost as much as I miss lox.

This isn’t the first time I’ve felt like Eva Gabor as Lisa Douglas, wife to Eddie Albert’s Oliver Wendell Douglas in Green Acres. Usually, chores and fresh air seem like a reasonable substitute for stores and Times Sqvare, but not today. Not today.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not about to pack it in. I’m profoundly interested in what we’re doing here, and its hold on me will reassert itself in no time. It’s just that, sometimes, I miss New York.

18 people are having a conversation about “The grass is always greener

  1. the place you speak of in Chatham is Nantucket Wild, where they smoke a number of fishes on the premises. The joint is run by the worlds most adorable irish guy and his partner, and they also carry all kinds of outrageously expensive kitchen goods in tiny jars that you don’t need but will happily spend money on when found in a small boutique-y store such as theirs (“Look honey- truffle tapenade!”)

    Still, it ain’t nothin’ compared to NYC fish. (which leads me to point #2… you asked for bread? I’d have happily brought back fish as well.)

  2. CONGRATULATIONS!!!! to your parents on their anniversary! A feat worth celebrating. And congratulations to you and your brother for making it a special memory for them.
    It’s okay to step out of the daily once in a while to experience something special- just enjoy!

  3. Kudos on your parents 50th. The Red Pheasant is a wonderful venue for such a festive event. And, yup, it’s Nantucket Wild Gourmet & Smokehouse and their fish is fantastic. There is a new owner, Drew Poce, who is a commercial & recreational fisherman. He catches & smokes his own bluefin & yellowfin tuna, haddock, fluke, sableflish. It’s cold smoked in small batches. I’m not a huge fan of smoked fish, but I do think his fish is the tops.

  4. What a lovely post. Makes me wish I was part of the family.

    If you were back in NY you would totally miss your new life. I guess the boxed lox et al makes for quite the special treat, now that you can’t run down the fifteen blocks to get it. Maybe you should treat yourself quarterly to something from the old neighborhood. Maybe someday you’ll be making something special to trade in kind.

    Maybe you had it good then, but you have it better now.

  5. I love what we do too but sometimes I would sell my own husband for a decent bagel.

    Instead of “the grass is greener” scenario think “a foot in each camp” instead. And god bless delivery service.

    Congratulations to your mom and dad on 50 years together, and some great kids to boot.

  6. Tamar, I’ve never been a New Yawkah. I lived for quite a spell in a sprawling metropolitan area, but I think in my secret heart of hearts I’ve always been a country girl. Still, we take the bus into Manhattan once a year, purely to indulge our gluttonous foodies ways. Just about a mile from our house is a stop on a bus line that can get us to Port Authority in less than two hours. We do it every fall, usually just as a day trip. Lox is one point on our culinary indulgence tour of the city. But there are others too: cheese, chocolate, bagels, beer, spices, etc. Somehow we try to squeeze in something non-food, like a museum visit or some such. Wanna meet in the city next time we go? Usually it’s October.

  7. Amanda — That’s the place. And I’ll be trying it. But it won’t be Eastern Nova.

    Tracy — I will pass your congratulations on to my parents, but I will demur on my own and my brother’s behalf. It shouldn’t be remarkable that kids do something nice for their parents’ 50th.

    Dianne — If a non-smoked-fish eater likes it, it’s got to be good. We’ll go soon.

    Dina — Thanks.

    Paula — I’m not sure I have it better now. Nor am I sure I had it better then. The two lifestyles are so radically different from each other that there’s not even a place to begin comparing them. I’m not sure whether spending more time in NY would make me miss it less or more. It’s because I’m afraid it might be the latter that I don’t go very often.

    Jen — The foot in this camp is up to its knee in compost and chicken and shit, and the foot in the other camp won’t even talk to it. (I’ve been working on mastering bagels, and the ones we make here are better than most of the ones in NY.)

    Kate — We’d have a ball, wouldn’t we? Keep me apprised of your plans. We can have a Starving off the Land and Living the Frugal Life Do Manhattan event.

    Denise — No, thank YOU! It was a lovely meal.

  8. Congrats to Mom and Dad! Oh and you can sample Nantucket Wild Gourmet and Smokehouse products at the Mid-Cape Farmers Market (shameless plug).

  9. Lovely bride of mine,
    This piece brings to my mind all the things I too miss about NY. The bustle and hum that was for me the sound not unlike a mothers heartbeat to an infant. I miss the raw capitalism of my days on the floor on wall street, I miss ethnic food and ethnic people even more. Though I think of myself quite skilled at turning pages in life, this for me was one of the heaviest by far. I only know it was a pleasure to turn it with you and as long as we continue to turn them together it will remain an excellent book.
    If I’m still around when I turn 94… I would love to take you to The Red Pheasant for our 50th.

  10. Rick — We will be there on Wednesday to check out the smoked fish. See you there!

    Husband mine — Thank you. I know how much you miss your raw capitalism, and raw oysters aren’t suffiicent compensation. I also know I wouldn’t be doing this if you weren’t doing it with me. Stick with me, and I’ll make the reservation for April 27, 2054.

  11. A lovely paean to love and longevity and a bittersweet ode to leaving the big city behind….We, too, left the city, in our case Los Angeles/Santa Monica, about the same time you left NYC, for a quieter life on Cape Cod. A garden full of vegetables waiting to be harvested, animals contracted for the freezer in their time, life on the river, the breath-taking beauty of autumn all bring happiness and hope – but oh, how I sometimes crave The City Life! Your piece brought a few tears.

    “…but not today. Not today.” Thank you for putting it into words.

  12. Judy — You and me both, eh? Let’s call up Eva Gabor and go out for a beer. I see the advantages of living here in the same way you do, and there’s some consolation in knowing that other people who appreciate those things also miss city life.

  13. Fifty is mighty nifty! Congratulations to the “Goldens.” Although it pains me to say it, I occasionally still miss some parts of city life. Usually all I need to return happily to the ‘middle of I don’t know what kind of place out past the sticks…’ (My sister described this place that way, years ago.) is to spend a few hours in the city. It smells bad, looks worse, has really loud noises, tthe people are rude, if not outright mean, and the places I enjoy visiting can be visited without living nearby. Most of my neighbors do not lock their doors when they leave for work, or when they go to bed. There is no need to do that, yet. People here are friendly, generally mind thier own business and leave your business to you, and everybody knows everything, anyway. Sadly, some people from the nearby large city have discovered us and they have begun the McMansion building process. It seems the Eagles were right–“You call someplace paradise, kiss it goodbye.” Oh well, I have moved before and will again if required.

  14. Many thanks for all the good wishes. My secret for our fifty years of happily married life? Incredible blind luck. Barbara (Mom) may have a slightly different take.

  15. Frankly, I don’t recall exactly how I stumbled upon this celebration of life, but so glad I did…believe it HAD to be food related. What a cool way to pay homage to FIFTY?? yrs of married life together–and to break your normal routine on *top* of it! Bonus.

    I, too, miss NYC…am home grown from NJ (Bridgewater) and spent the last 12 years there in Rumson, living on the Shrewsbury River. Took the train into the city for dalliances at Balducci’s, among other emporiums. I was the one with 4 shopping bags or more…but didn’t mind it, b/c they were full of treasures.

    Living in ATL is well…so not NY or Jersey. Don’t get me going on “that.” Suffice to say I miss the same things mentioned above and even have one of those “to the grave” memories of my first oysters in Chatham on Cape Cod (mid Sept, a little off season)…followed by a pear/vanilla sauce dessert that will live on in my one brain cell forever.

    Congratulations to your family, the anniversary, fish smoking, and whatever else brings you joy!


  16. Tamar, I am forever grateful to you for introducing me to Barney Google (as I call it so I can remember it) on my too-few visits to NYC. Sounds like a great party, and the comments between you and Kevin above are way sweet. 🙂 “George” says hello, too !!

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