I’m not normally quid pro quo when it comes to food, but when you make something as delicious as David Lebovitz’s mint chip ice cream, someone’s gotta give you something pretty good for dinner before you offer them a whole container. Good thing I’m friends with Harry and Cris. Cris is from Bordeaux (that’s in France) and he’s one of the best natural cooks I know. The other night, they invited us over for pizza.
My friend Toby grew up in Berkeley and whenever we see each other, we talk about all of the things we might cook together one day. It’s one of those conversations that happens over and over again but the plans never materialize, so at a certain point somebody has to say, “OK, are we doing this or not?” Which is exactly what I said last time that I saw him, pulling out my calendar (or, more accurately, my iPhone with the iCal app), forcing Toby to nail down a date. That date was last Saturday and Toby, showing off his Berkeley roots, promised to make sourdough bread from scratch. To which I replied: “Well, I guess then I’ll make cioppino!”
For a while, our friend Cris has wanted to cook us dinner. The fact that we didn’t make it happen immediately won’t seem like a big deal until I tell you that Cris is French. Yes, we had the opportunity to have dinner cooked for us by a French person and we didn’t take him up on it until last week when he and his boyfriend Harry had us over to their Echo Park apartment.
I was never a wedding person. Growing up, I’d watch the wedding scene in The Sound of Music and fantasize about writing a great musical someday. The idea of walking down an aisle held very little appeal for me (even if there’d be nuns singing a slowed-down version of “How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria?”) So when Craig and I got engaged almost two years ago at Rustic Canyon, I imagined us having a simple wedding at a nice restaurant somewhere. Maybe just our families and a few close friends at Blue Hill Stone Barns or The French Laundry; 12 to 15 people max. The only problem? My betrothed had a very different idea of what our wedding would be. “I want a big party,” he informed me soon after we told our families that we were getting married. “A big party with lots and lots of people!”
Maybe this is a weird thing to be proud of, but I didn’t write any lead-up to Thanksgiving post this year and it felt really nice. So much of the writing about Thanksgiving is unnecessary: seriously, anything you need to know about turkey or cranberry sauce or stuffing has already been written. The fact that it’s a “new spin” on whatever is really just an opportunity to get you to click, buy, forward, ReTweet, etc. So I avoided all that and then went to Boca Raton, Florida where my family lives and where I promptly fell ill with a mini-flu—chills, sweats, the works–and laid on the couch while my mom got me chicken soup from Too-Jay’s to supplement the bagels and rainbow cookies from Way Beyond Bagels. As for Thanksgiving dinner, it was a simple one this year, and that was a good thing. Mom brought in food that I helped heat up and everyone was happy; Thanksgiving really isn’t about reinventing the wheel, it’s about hitting the marks. This meal did that and my plate shows you what you want to see: the turkey, the stuffing (cornbread-based), mashed potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, and vegetables that I infused with a little garlic and olive oil (OK, I didn’t just heat everything up). Here’s our whole family in one picture that my dad arranged with a timer:
In the top row that’s me, Craig, my uncle Mark, yet another Craig Johnson (my sis-in-law’s dad!), my dad, my mom, my brother, his wife Tali, their dog Lulu, Tali’s mom Gila, then moving left my grandfather, my grandmother, and my aunt Ellen. Despite my illness, it was a lovely Thanksgiving and way more fun to talk about after the fact! Hope yours was great too.
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.
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.)
Well, it happened, and you guys made it happen. The Skeleton Twins “won” the weekend according to IndieWire; it was the #1 film in 12 out of the 15 theaters where it played. Now it’s expanding to more cities–Seattle, Minneapolis, Dallas, Boston, San Diego, Palo Alto and San Jose next week–and will continue to grow if you all keep going out and supporting it.
On Wednesday, our families and friends and people who worked on the movie all gathered here at our apartment for a champagne toast before we all headed off to the premiere at the ArcLight Hollywood. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how it all went down.