A few months ago–what seems like an eternity ago–Craig’s mom, Julee, asked if I’d be willing to donate a cookbook dinner for a charity auction to benefit the Whatcom Center for Early Learning in Bellingham, Washington, where she and Craig’s dad, Steve, live. I said, “Sure” and didn’t think twice about it. Of course I’d be happy to cook a dinner for charity, no biggie. Then I forgot all about it. Months passed and then Julee reached back out: the auction item was a big hit. Two couples had paid money (real money) for a meal that would be cooked by yours truly for them and four other people (they could each bring two more people) based on recipes from my cookbook SECRETS OF THE BEST CHEFS. This was really happening. Holy crap, what was I going to cook?
For as long as I’ve been visiting Craig’s family in Bellingham, Washington, I’ve been hearing about the Oyster Bar. It’s where Craig went for his prom night dinner. It’s where Craig’s parents celebrated their most recent anniversary. It’s beautifully situated on Chuckanut Drive, the scenic route you take when getting off the I-5 from Seattle.
On this most recent trip, we decided to go there with our friends Mark and Diana. After the Fair, we changed into our fancy clothes, hopped into a car and parked precariously on a ledge. I’m pretty sure Diana thought I’d fall to my death off a cliff when I opened my car door. Maybe that was the plan all along!
Every year, Craig’s dad, Steve, makes the most amazing prime rib for Christmas dinner (see here) and every year I help out the best I can, usually volunteering to make a side dish. Last year I made a gratin but this year, since mashed potatoes were already on the menu, I offered up a vegetable. At my request, Craig’s mom (Julee) bought me a bag of Brussels sprouts from the grocery store and when the dinner hour grew close, I opened their refrigerator and pulled out a bevy of ingredients to help in my enterprise.
Christmas Dinner isn’t something I ever ate growing up, being a Jew and all.
For the past few years, though, I’ve been visiting Craig’s family in Bellingham, Washington and Craig’s dad, Steve–a really excellent cook (see his apple pie)–has made some kind of roast to serve on the big night. And this year the prime rib that he made–a “well-marbled ten pounder,” he tells me over e-mail–was so juicy and flavorful, it’s entered the sphere of legend. We’ll be comparing all the prime ribs we eat from now on to this one. What made it so good? How did he do it?
Not long ago, my friend Diana had a friend visit from Italy and this friend–who went to college with Diana in the U.S. (Brown University, to be precise)–was incredibly eager to eat an American brunch again. “She was really excited about brunch,” Diana related to me later. “She says it’s one of the things she misses most about the U.S.”
A few days ago, while eating brunch at the Old Town Cafe in Bellingham, Washington, it occurred to me: if I were going to tell a non-American how to best experience American food culture, the meal I’d suggest (and this is a brand new revelation) is breakfast.
Some of us have Oedipal complexes, others have Electra complexes, but very few of us have a complex based on apple pie. Allow me to lay on your therapist’s couch for a moment: I have a serious pie issue. My apple pie is inadequate–it comes from Martha Stewart–and though it often inspires a happy nod and a fleeting smile, it rarely induces the kind of exaltation that comes when Craig’s dad–who we’ll call “Steve” because that’s his name–makes his signature apple pie.
What is it that makes his pie so good? Why do my pies never measure up? On a recent visit to Bellingham, Washington–home of “Steve”–I decided to solve this mystery once and for all. What follows are the closely-guarded secrets of Steve’s Signature Apple Pie; a pie that I finally recreated at home to much acclaim–so much acclaim that I don’t need this therapy anymore. How much do I owe you?
When it comes to gift-giving, it’s good to have a thing. Those without a thing are hard to buy gifts for: you choose between scarves and candles and ponder the merits of fuchsia vs. chartreuse or hyacinth vs. gardenia. But when someone has a thing, you just get them something that fits their thing. Like shopping for Bono or Michael Jordan or Sigfried & Roy–you buy them music, basketballs and magic trick sets, of course; and everyone’s happy. And those that have a thing can buy stuff for other people based on their own thing: like Bono can make you a mix tape, Michael Jordan can give you Air Jordans, and Sigfried & Roy can give you a white tiger. Having a thing is awesome.
For the longest time, as a young Jew, I was convinced that all of Christianity hinged on a deep, profound belief in Santa Claus. Jesus baffled me; I presumed he was just a supporting player in the epic, inspiring story of Santa. And as much as I was supposed to be impressed with an oil lamp that burned for eight straight nights, the idea of a big fat man with a beard soaring through the air, climbing down the chimney of good little Christian kids and smothering them in a sea of gifts filled me with a jealous rage.
It took 20 some odd years, a flight to Seattle and a drive to Bellingham Washington–where Craig’s family lives–to finally experience December on the other side of the religious fence. And though I won’t be baptizing myself in the bathtub any time soon, I was thoroughly impressed. Here’s why.