Remember business lunches? Maybe you don’t, but I know anyone who worked in a true white collar job back in the 80s and 90s does. I was working for a mortgage company in Malden, MA in the 80s. After being laid off for the second time from that community bank/mortgage company and doing a 5 year stint at an insurance company, I got a job with a commercial lending company out of D.C. With those companies, we did business lunches.
Going out for a business lunch
When I worked in Malden (yes for 10 years!) we had our regular hangouts, the 99 across the street, where we talked in code about the bosses we didn’t like and the bartender knew our Tuesday night “regular” included glasses of wine set up for us on the bar when we walked in. We also frequented an Italian restaurant on Pleasant Street that made the most incredible salad dressing we wanted to drink it as soup, and in which I spent numerous 2 hour lunches during the mortgage boom of the 80s. We also spent evenings at My Honey Fitz listening to roudy Irish music and drinking more Irish Coffees than we should. Thankfully I took the train home most days.
Looking for someplace special
But when you worked in Malden or wanted a place convenient to the airport, the “fancy place” to go for a celebratory dinner and drinks was Charlestown (cheaper than Boston and avoiding the traffic a bit). We’d congregate at a restaurant now known as Pier 6, overlooking the USS Constitution in the Charlestown Navy Shipyard. And when I managed the New England office of the commercial company, we’d meet clients and corporate executives for lunch or dinner at Anthony’s Pier 4 (you know, the restaurant where the murder scene from the movie Black Mass was filmed).
Liquid lunches were definitely a thing back then.
But it always felt SO grown-up professional. We ordered more wine than should be consumed during the workday (and paid for by our employer) or glasses of single malt whiskey. Mind you, I didn’t really drink. Maybe I had a bottle of Kahlua at home, or, after my father passed away (he didn’t allow alcohol in the house) a bottle of wine. But whiskey? Never! And multiple glasses of wine? Not since college. I think this added to the dangerously grown-up feeling I got doing these lunches. Just like all those movies I’d watched as a kid with businessmen drinking in their offices or going out to fancy lunches with a secretary or two. Great impressions to leave with a kid, but there you have it.
Flying from the Cape to Boston for lunch
I remember the last one of these “special” lunches. At least the last one locally. It was scheduled in the middle of a vacation I’d planned. And I explained that I couldn’t be there. When my boss asked why my excuse wasn’t good enough. They’d be flying me from Provincetown to Boston so I could be there. Really? Flying me on a puddle jumper from the Cape to Boston just so I could have lunch? I was definitely doing that! I was meeting my BDO (who worked in NH with me), another top sales person, and one of our VPs from DC. They wanted a quiet place we could chat, have lunch, and then get me back to the airport easily to take my return flight to Provincetown (talk about an expensive lunch!).
A business is doing well when lunch is a flight away
This was definitely in the late 90s, and business was booming. We reserved a beautiful booth at Pier 4 with an overstuffed lounging couch and comfortable seats right next to a huge wall of windows looking out on the various boats and people wandering near the ferries. For some reason, I feel like we were outside, but I know that’s not the case. Those must have been some big windows!
The place was fairly busy at 1 pm or so, but by an hour in, it was pretty empty and while the staff was extremely attentive, they were also busying themselves with preparations for dinner, their true shining moment in the day. And our party had finished appetizers and entrees, moved through a few bottles of wine, and were contemplating dessert. And yes, I was perusing the menu for something I’d never had before. Why not? I wasn’t paying and I wanted something different than the standard apple pie with cheddar cheese or flan that the others were ordering (who orders pie with cheese these days? Anyone?).
Have you ever HAD Strawberries Romanoff?
Then I saw it, Strawberries Romanoff! That’s what I was having. The guys were shocked. They’d never heard of it, but I pretended I knew exactly what it was. I was unprepared for the tableside preparation of a memorable dessert. Memorable except for the name, but more on that later.
Yes, surprising us all, the head waiter returned a few minutes later wheeling a cart that contained a beautiful bowl of cleaned, hulled strawberries, cut up into beautiful ruby red chunks. He also had a bottle of Grand Marnier, a small bowl of sugar, and a bowl of what I later found out was chilled whipped and sour cream mixed together. He quickly doused the strawberries in a good bath of the liqueur, sprinkled them with sugar and mixed that around, then scooped the cream on top and made sure every last juicy strawberry had it’s creamy bath. He filled a pretty glass with a few spoonfuls of this decadent treat, placed the rest of the bowl on the table, and wheeled his cart away. Oh my God, that was the most delicious end to our meal.
Boys will be boys
Of course, the guys started grabbing strawberries out of the bowl with their hands to eat. Suddenly they ordered more drinks, and in the end, we ate all the strawberries. As dinner guests were just starting to line up outside, we were ready to go home. But not before our “top sales rep” had removed a shoe and sock to show us his toenails, painted for him by his 4-year-old before he left that morning, and yes, that foot ended up on the table for all of us to see. The waiters looked the other way. But hey, if they can have the Winter Hill Gang murdering people in their parking lot, I think they can manage a father’s modeling of his daughter’s pedicure skills, don’t you?
So how does this connect with Pavlova?
But that brings me to the whole “memorable except for the name” comment. Because yes, I remembered that dessert, and still do. And I wanted to make it again sometime. This year, for Christmas Eve, since we really couldn’t go anywhere, and were looking forward to a night in watching our church’s Christmas pageant on zoom, I decided to make Berries Pavlova (you’re right not the same dish). But I wasn’t sure, and couldn’t really remember what that dessert was called, so we had Pavlova. Another amazing dish we will make again. I created my version with flavored balsamic vinegar. I hope for your next special dinner (or maybe a business lunch while you’re zooming from home) you’ll give it a try. It takes a bit of time whipping egg whites and baking, but it really is simple!
Berries Pavlova with Homemade Lemon Curd
- 4 large egg whites
- 1 cup superfine sugar (I’ll tell you how to make it superfine)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp blackberry balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp corn starch
- 1 ½ cups fresh washed whole berries (strawberries, blackberries, blueberries)
- ½ TB lemon juice
- 1 cup lemon curd
- Whipped cream, lightly sweetened. I flavored mine with orange extract but lemon or orange zest would also be pretty
- Mint leaves for garnish (optional)
- Orange and/or lemon zest for garnish (optional)
- Split your eggs when they are refrigerator cold. This makes splitting the eggs from the yolks easier. Set the yolks aside for the curd.
- Allow the whites to come to room temperature by setting them in a covered bowl for 20 – 30 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 350 F.
- Run your sugar through a spice grinder or food processor for a few minutes to ensure it is superfine, or purchase superfine from the grocery store.
- Line a large baking sheet with baking parchment.
- In your largest bowl (they expand quite a bit), beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. You can start with a whisk but this takes a while so I strongly urge you to use a mixer.
- Add half the sugar and beat for 30 – 45 seconds, then add the second half and beat again for 30 – 45 seconds.
- Continue beating on high speed until you have glossy stiff peaks, and the bowl held upside down over your head does not create a mess!
- Add vanilla extract and beat for another minute or so.
- If you don’t have stiff peaks at this point, keep on beating, they will arrive. It took me a good ten minutes because my whites weren’t exactly room temperature.
- With a rubber/silicone spatula, gently fold in the vinegar and corn starch. You need to be gently so you don’t remove all the bubbles you’ve created.
- Spread the mixture onto the parchment in an 8 – 9 inch circular shape. Try to keep it even depth. Using a piping bag can help, but I just moved mine around a bit with a silicone spoon until it was fairly even. Create a dip in the center with the sides about an inch higher. This will hold your curd and berries when you’re done.
- Place the pavlova in the oven, close the door, and lower the heat immediately to 200 F.
- Bake until the pavlova is firm and dry. Mine took a bit longer than 90 minutes. Keep an eye on it and rotate if you notice any side starting to brown. Some ovens heat unevenly and you want a nice evenly colored pale pavlova. But also, try not to open the oven door unless necessary since that will cool the temperature down.
- Once done, turn the oven off and let the pavlova cool completely in the oven.
- Once cool, fill the pavlova with a layer of lemon curd, a layer of mixed berries, a few tablespoons of whipped cream, the rest of the berries, and then more whipped cream, with a few teaspoons of lemon or orange zest and maybe a garnish of a mint leaf or two.
- Serve immediately.
The pavlova itself only lasts a day or two before it starts to become very wet and runny. It tastes great, but not something to serve for a special dinner. You can also make the pavlova part a day ahead and store at room temperature, covered tightly but I think once you see it, you’re going to want to eat it!
If you’ve enjoyed this story of my life and the accompanying recipe, I think you’d enjoy my blog in general. It’s filled with memories, kitchen tips, and yummy recipes. Just share your email below, I promise I won’t share it anywhere.
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