Ina Garten is one smart cookie. On a recent episode of her show, I watched her amp up the flavor of a potato leek soup by roasting the potatoes and leeks on a cookie sheet–getting them nice and golden brown–before pureeing them with chicken stock and topping the soup with crispy shallots. So when Vitamix asked me to make an autumnal soup recipe using their S30 model–a model ideal for making an individual portion–I knew what I had to do. Off to the store I went to pick up a butternut squash, an apple, an onion, some ginger, and some chicken stock, and then I went full Ina.
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Today’s my grandma Ronnie’s 85th birthday. And though she doesn’t have a computer, my grandfather gets my blog on his Kindle; so hopefully he’ll read this to her tomorrow morning when she wakes up.
For most of my life, my grandmother has been a major presence. Legend goes that just as I started speaking, she sang “You Are My Sunshine” to me from the front seat of her car and from the back seat I started singing back. We spent a lot of time together, when I was growing up. Her second husband (she’s been widowed twice), my grandpa Joe, owned a pickle factory on Long Island called Stern’s Pickles and when I was very young I’d go with her to the Roosevelt Field Flea Market where she sold them. She was quite industrious with her pickle stand; eventually, after he died, she started selling splatter art t-shirts. I remember being in her yellow wallpapered kitchen on East Lexington, in Oceanside (where I’d ride my bike almost every day), and she’d offer me a diet chocolate soda with some milk in it and we’d lay white t-shirts on the table and decorate them with puffy paint and little mirrors. She was always keeping busy.
In that house, she’d often boil vegetables and sprinkle them with Mrs. Dash. They tasted pretty great to me. In the guest room upstairs, she kept bags of Hershey’s samplers (maybe leftover from Halloween?) and I could have all the Krackel I wanted.
Eventually, she married my Grandpa Roy (the one with the Kindle) and we all moved to Florida where she and I would frequent The Olive Garden, Bagelworks, and another bagel shop called Bagels With next to Ross Dress For Less, where I’d go with her after my onion bagel with whitefish salad and raw red onions. Those raw red onions were a prominent part of my childhood; my mother and grandmother would always ask for them with their egg white omelets. We all had terrible breath, but who cared when we were mostly talking to each other?
Grandma had no qualms about taking me to slightly inappropriate movies. With her, I saw Single White Female and Legal Eagles and whenever there was a sex scene, she’d give me quarters to go play video games in the lobby. When Grandpa Joe died of a brain tumor, I took her to a movie to cheer her up. My pick? Beaches, the least cheerful movie you could possibly pick in that situation. But she was a trooper and I secretly loved it.
Grandma Ronnie (who gave herself that name because she didn’t like “Rebecca” or its derivative “Becky”) is a force of nature. If the world is a battleground, she’s General Patton. And she’s charged through her life with so much fortitude and verve, it’s easy to forget what a good heart she has underneath all that armor. When she and grandpa went to see Craig’s movie, she said: “Tell Craig I think he’s a genius. You’re very lucky to have him and he’s very lucky to have you.”
And we’re even more lucky to have you, grandma. Happy 85th to one of the greatest people I know.
Is it possible to go to Paris with your friend Diana, eat yourself silly, then come back from Paris to L.A. only to have a French meal just as good as, if not better than, anything you ate 6,000 miles away? The answer is yes and it happened at Petit Trois where Diana and I went for lunch last week. This place is a marvel, one of the best restaurants I’ve been to anywhere in a long time. Don’t believe me? Prepare to be wowed.
Memorize this fact about apple pie making, and you’ll be set for life: it’s not about the recipe, it’s about your state of mind.
That nugget comes from Craig’s dad, the master of apple pie (see here), who’s said to me, in the past: “I think you’re overthinking it.” And in the past I had overthought it over and over again. But the truth is once you understand the WHY of everything, the rest takes care of itself. And that’s what helped me produce the best apple pie I’ve ever made, the one you see above.
So sad to hear about Jan Hooks, one of the funniest and most original women to ever grace the stage of Saturday Night Live. I knew her best, actually, as Martin Short’s co-star on an NBC special with Phil Hartman that I recorded on a VHS tape and watched over and over again in high school (I still have a lot of it memorized). But nothing comes close to the sketch you see above, considered one of the best SNL sketches of all time. Calling it a sketch, in fact, feels like something of an insult; it’s more of a mini-play and Jan Hooks is wonderful in it. May she rest in peace.
That sandwich you see towering above you is called the Stella Hero from Stella Barra Pizza, where Craig and I went for lunch before seeing Gone Girl this past Sunday. The question isn’t “what’s in that thing?”, the question is: “What isn’t in that thing?” It’s got smoked ham, turkey, capicola (cured pork shoulder), tomato, Caciocavallo cheese, Giardiniera (a spicy pickled condiment), and lettuce. It’s a sandwich for the ages, served on warm crusty bread that’s a perfect foil for all the soft meats and cheese inside. There really isn’t a bad thing to say about it, except this: it took 30 minutes to get to our table.
The older I get, the more my taste has shifted from the realm of CLEVER to the realm of HEART. In my 20s, I devoured books like Pale Fire and A Confederacy of Dunces; in my 30s, I get more excited when a book moves me to tears than when it makes me chuckle knowingly.
Enter Richard Kramer. A writer and producer of such shows as thirtysomething, My So-Called Life, Once and Again, Queer as Folk, and Tales of the City, he recently revealed himself as a fan of this very food blog. And in our exchange he’d mentioned the novel he’d written, These Things Happen, which I promptly picked up and finished reading this morning before starting my day. It’s a book positively bursting with heart. Every character, every utterance is written with so much love and joy and warmth, it feels like a great, big hug. And the best part is, food plays a major role here: the story concerns a teenager named Wesley, whose dad (Kenny) latently came out as gay, and now lives with his partner, George, who runs a restaurant in New York’s theater district.
There’s focaccia, lasagna, polenta cake, you name it; and what I love so much about the way food figures in here is that it illustrates something that I feel very strongly about: the power food has to nurture, to heal, to comfort, to console. It’s a lovely book written by a lovely person. I really think you’ll enjoy it. (Buy it here.)
Sometimes there’s a salad that you like, but don’t love, and then you change a few things about it and suddenly it’s your new favorite salad. That’s what happened with this salad, a familiar combination of apples and fennel and walnuts and golden raisins and arugula. It’s one you can probably find in my archives and that recipe in my archives is good but not great. This one is great. What’s the difference?
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