Hard-working people with wise palates can appreciate the reward of a good olive

The Happy Eater

April 24, 1996|By ROB KASPER

WASHINGTON -- THE WORLD is divided into two groups. Some call these groups the good and the bad. Others call them the bright and the unenlightened. I call them olive lovers and olive haters.

Those of us good, bright folks who love olives do so with a passion bordering on the extreme. Take Sarah Leah Chase, for example. She pedaled a bicycle up and down some of the hills of Europe. She did this because it was part of her job as a culinary guide for a company that arranges eating and bicycling trips throughout the world. She did this to gather material for a series of cookbooks. The first two in the series, called "Pedaling Through Burgundy" and "Pedaling Through Provence" (Workman, $14.95 each), have recently been released. And Ms. Chase, who lives in Nantucket, Mass., pedaled the roads of Europe so she could be close to good olives.

I figured this out the other day at a lunch held for Ms. Chase in our nation's capital. This was a classic "Washington lunch," the kind that members of the eating press are always on the lookout for. It was a gorgeous spring day, and the streets were awash with flowering trees. The lunch site, the Jefferson hotel, seemed like the kind of place where world travelers, people with leather luggage, would stay. It was old, it was intimate, it had shrubbery, hedges, right out there on 16th Street.

The wines at lunch were French and came in two colors. First a white, a Pouilly Fuisse, was poured as the candied shallots and walnut croutes were passed around. Then a red, a Chambertin, was uncorked when the potatoes gratin and sausages with green grapes were served.

As befits a lunch of this type, the table talk dealt with matters of international import. Ms. Chase and I, for instance, discussed the relationship between the hills of Europe and the religions of the world. This discussion got started when I asked her what gear she put her bike in to negotiate steep hills. She said she often was in the wrong gear. Rather than worrying about being in the correct gear, she said, she "enjoyed working harder" by being in the wrong gear. This view meshed nicely, she said, with her Catholic upbringing. Both stressed that extra work was good for you.

We discussed how to reward yourself for your labors. The answer was obvious: You eat olives. One of the reasons olives were put on earth, I said, was to pay us back for doing routine tasks. For example, anytime you have had a "tough shop" at the grocery store, you can indulge yourself by buying a jar of green olives stuffed with pimientos. Sometimes the jar might be empty before you make it out of the parking lot. Or, when you hike to an ethnic food store to buy unusual ingredients, you can reward yourself by getting some "hammered" green olives covered with garlic, or some black kalamata olives treated with brine. On days you are feeling sorry for yourself, you order "a double," a quarter pound of the green and a quarter pound of the black olives.

Ms. Chase also has a weakness for olives. After pedaling through the South of France she was so taken with the olives of the region that she came back with not one, not two, but three "favorite" recipes for tapenade. The refrigerator of her Nantucket home is, she confessed, rarely without a bowl of the olive spread. She spreads the tapenade on chicken, red meats, grilled fish, grilled vegetables or simply on toast. In short, if something is considered edible, Ms. Chase has probably covered it, at one time or another, with tapenade.

Such boundless enthusiasm for the ovoid is common among olive lovers. We believe that the good life, like good olives, should be a little salty. We believe the olive can inspire. It can get us through the small tasks, like going to the grocery store. At lunch the other day, Ms. Chase convinced me I too could pedal every mountain, as long as some olives were waiting on the other side.

Pub Date: 4/24/96

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