BY DAVE WOOD Stein deserves her day in July
July seems to be full of days for significant observances, some of which I’m sure you’ve happily celebrated, such as National Ginger Snap Day (July 1), World UFO Day (July 2) and World Chocolate Day (July 7). But perhaps you’ve missed the great one on July 27: On this day in 1946, American expatriate Gertrude Stein died in Paris.
Stein, who was all the rage when she moved to Paris in the twenties, was capable of saying smart things and incomprehensible ones as well. One smart one, still used when one speaks of the expatriates who flocked to Paris for free love and freedom of artistic pursuit, “You are all a lost generation,” was so good that Ernest Hemingway used it as an epigraph to his novel, “The Sun Also Rises.” Later Stein told Hemingway that she picked that up from a French garage mechanic referring to his assistants. Was she pulling Ernie’s leg? I wouldn’t be surprised.
Despite her long tenure in Paris, Stein never forgot the U.S., her natal place: “In America there is more space where nobody is, than where anybody is.” About California? “There is no there there.”
All these quotes are fine and have contrib uted to Stein’s lasting fame, but the works they come from—like “Tender Buttons” and “Four Saints in Two Acts” is almost unfathomable, although I must say I truly enjoyed her very reasonable autobiography, which she coyly titled with her partner’s name: “The Autobiograpy of Alice B. Toklas,” which permitted the narrator, “Toklas,” to write that she had only known one genius in her lifetime and that was none other than – you guessed it – Gertrude Stein.
Ironically her usually silent partner, Toklas, is probably better known to the general public than the impenetrable Stein (“A rose is a rose is a rose,” “the grass, alas,”) because after her lover’s death she wrote a book herself.
And it was a bestseller, an achievement never matched by her more vocal and ambi- tious partner! To top it ou, it was a COOK –
A word of warning. Should, dear reader, you ever manage to purchase a copy of “The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook,” by Alice B. Toklas, never, ever loan it out, even to a closest friend. I’ve done it three times and I’ve never received them back.
But Toklas’s recollection of meals she served at the Stein Toklas residence at Rue de Fleurs are unforgettable.
The reason for her success in the publishing world rests on one single recipe. And that’s for the marijuana brownies she served to guests on several occasions. In the 1960s when the counterculture was in full bloom, the hippies discovered the book because of the brownie recipe, and the rest of her story is history.
I want to make it perfectly clear that I didn’t buy three copies of the book just to reclaim the pot recipe. Because I am not a pothead, not a weedwhacker and hare never stared transfixed by a candle's flame or be came ravenously hungry after a smoke (my preference having always been a traditional cigarette).
No, I bought Alice B’s book because the recipes are a sociological reflection of those Roaring Twenties days in Paris.
Such as the recipe for Ouefs Francois Picabia, named after one of the era’s famous painters. Here’s how they made scrambled eggs at Fleurs de Rue. Place one dozen lightly beaten eggs in the top half of a double boiler, add one pound of diced cold butter. Turn the burner under the water bath on low and gently stir until the butter is melted and delicate curds of egg have formed, season to taste and pour into bowls. Eat with a spoon accompanied by toast points. Decadent? Oui oui!
Toklas ran into culinary trouble when the Nazis stormed into Paris and rationing overran any possibility of decadence. Undaunted, Alice invented something she called “Occupation Meatloaf,” sort of hunter’s loaf of a recipe. If you can corral a half a pound of ground beef, add another half-pound of stale breadcrumbs, moisten with a carafe of cheap red wine, season with herbs and spices. Add a beaten egg if you can find one. Bake until firm.
I’m hoping that you’ll agree on the basis of these culinary treats that Stein deserves her day of recognition in July every bit as much as ginger snaps and chocolate, even though none can beat the mystique of UFO’s!