What Harold Koda Can’t Live Without

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If you’re like us, you’ve probably wondered what famous people add to their carts. Not the JAR brooch and Louis XV chair, but the ground coffee and the bathroom rug. We asked former curator of the Met Costume Institute Harold Koda which items he can’t live without.

I come from Hawaii, and my family still sends me care packages. The Big Island has this volcanic soil, which means they get good coffee — they also get good dope — and my family has sent me all kinds of coffees, but of all the ones I’ve tried, Royal Kona Private Reserve Medium Roast is my favorite. I’ll grind my beans in a white Braun grinder (the coffee is just the right strength if I level off the beans with the top edge of the grinder) and then I’ll use a Q-tip, which I keep in a box in a kitchen drawer, to dislodge any ground coffee into the Bodum French press. I hate waste. I’ll drink two glasses of coffee in the morning and then two iced coffees later in the day.

As my coffee water is boiling, I start preparing my matcha. It has a bright-green color that’s almost unnatural-looking because the chlorophyll is so concentrated. I take a heaping teaspoon of matcha and put it in a glass — you’d never do this in an actual tea ceremony — then pour simmering (not boiling!) water over it and make a small amount of tea that I stir with an old bamboo whisk my friend gifted me. Then I cut that mixture with Evian. I actually make half a gallon at a time and keep it in the refrigerator. I’ll drink iced tea in the middle of winter. I think it’s more flavorful. I buy Tenju, but it’s very umami. Some people think it has a fishy smell. It actually doesn’t bother me but if you don’t want to serve a drink that smells like salmon, the much less expensive Choan is also organic matcha from Japan, and I haven’t ever found it to have the same scent as the Tenju. One is for white people, and one is for me!

If it’s humid, in a photo, a glass dripping with condensation looks delicious, but if you have furniture (and I haven’t been able to solve this; maybe someone out there has), I still haven’t ever found really good coasters. Coasters that look good frequently don’t work. Even the ones that work momentarily, when you leave the room the condensation comes down and drips on the table. But when you have the double-walled glasses you don’t get the condensation. We just bought a cottage in the Bahamas, where it’s really humid, and I’m so glad I found these ordinary double-walled glasses, slightly canted inward on the inside. They’re really minimal. I’m so glad I found something really generic because I’m so conservative that I wanted something plain. I get them in three sizes.

So, of course, like everyone else, I started with Magic Erasers, but it made me so happy that I was able to find the same thing in quantity for less money. In the country house, all the walls are white, and things get scuffed! Even when you’re cleaning the walls, your tools will scuff them. So part of the reason why I found I needed to buy these in bulk was because these sponges break down rather quickly. After you use the sponge, it gets compacted and isn’t very good anymore. I don’t really understand how it works — there’s something like glass fibers or polymers or silicone [editor’s note: it’s melamine] which really abrades everything away. It’s fine, almost like a pumice, so it doesn’t scratch anything. You do still need to use a solvent to clean of course, but it picks most everything up, especially when we’re talking about rubber scuffs or black streaks from someone’s bag just brushing up against a wall.

We inherited this extraordinary set of voile placemats and napkins done in the late ‘50s or ‘60s in polychrome embroidery — they had red lobsters, green parsley sprigs, and yellow lemon wedges. They had oxidized butter stains, but they were so cool, we used them anyway. Once we had some friends over for the weekend, and the wife of one couple, Anastasia Vournas, saw the stains, and she conspired with my housekeeper and actually kidnapped the set and took it to the city. She sent the set back to us, and the napkins and mats were as vivid as they ever were — with no fading at all — but the stains were gone! I asked her the secret, and she told me it was this awesome product she got only in the Bronx. Now you can get it anywhere, but it’s the best. You do have to do multiple washes, but it’s gotten out blueberry stains, too, which are the absolute hardest. I even told our conservator at the museum about it, but it’s not for historic objects obviously.

When I was younger I never liked countertenors, especially because I thought, just find a woman! But as I’ve heard more countertenors, I’ve found it to be more and more uncanny. Jaroussky doesn’t have much of a robust chest — he’s sort of this thin, narrow, salamander-like guy so you can’t imagine this pure sustained sound coming out. I have all his CDs, but the first I got was Carestini, and it’s just transportive. I can’t put it on when my partner is here because he thinks I play it too much. I play it when I’m eating or reading alone. It’s ambient for me. When you see him live, it is so fucking unbelievable. What I like is the ambiguity. It’s neither male nor female. This is the kind of voice that approximates a castrato. It’s only slightly more textured than a boys’ choir. It’s something you never encounter.

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What Harold Koda Can’t Live Without