As far as arrivals to one of my dinner parties go, last night was maybe the most dramatic of all time. I was making a chicken and sausage dish from Nancy Silverton’s under-appreciated cookbook Mozza at Home (I seriously consider it one of the best cookbooks to come out in recent years) and I’d cranked the oven up to 450, despite the fact that some of the liquid had spilled on to the oven floor. Well! That liquid sent PLUMES of smoke out of the oven, so much so that two things happened: all four smoke alarms in our apartment started going off; and the air became noxious with the scents of vinegar and burning. Which is exactly when our guests arrived.
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.
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.
When I first laid eyes on Craig, it was in the spring of 2006 at Joe on Waverly and he was with a guy slightly shorter than him working on a screenplay. I didn’t know they were working on a screenplay; mostly, I wondered if they were a couple or just friends. When Craig went to get water, we made eye contact. A few weeks later, totally randomly, he looked at my Friendster profile (remember Friendster?) and I sent him an e-mail. We went on a date. And another date. And now we’ve been together for almost eight years. And that screenplay he was working on with his friend (who turned out to be Mark Heyman who’d later go on to write Black Swan and to marry my good friend Diana)? It became a movie–The Skeleton Twins–that just premiered to wild acclaim at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
A lot of people are making a big deal about the fact that Hanukkah fell this year on Thanksgiving. “It’s the first time in thousands of years that this has happened!” someone said to me and I said back, “But America hasn’t existed for thousands of years?” There was an uncomfortable silence. The point is that many people, while eating turkey, were also eating latkes last week. And since we’re still in the middle of Hanukkah, it’s not too late to have a latke party. All you need are some potatoes (sweet or regular), some onion-like things (I’ll explain momentarily) and miraculous vegetable oil that’s capable of burning for eight nights straight.
As life was ending in the Catskills, my life was just beginning. I was only a kid when my parents drove my brother and me upstate to experience the splendor (or former splendor) of the great bastions of Jewish entertainment. We stayed in hotels like The Concord and Kutsher’s where the carpeting was well-worn and the smell was a pungent mixture of mothballs and boiled eggs. I remember a lunch in a sunny dining room with faded pink tablecloths and a plate of refrigerated gefilte fish plopped down in front of us, my dad teaching me how to cover it extravagantly with spicy horseradish to mask its nothingness. We saw Frankie Valli perform. We saw The Turtles. An artist named Morris Katz painted landscapes in the lobby. These memories circled around a vague mist in my head as I joined my parents for dinner this past Monday night to celebrate Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) at Manhattan’s resurrection of this time and place: Kutsher’s Tribeca.
On Passover Saturday, I Tweeted that I was making Everything Bagel Bombs from the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook and moments later I received this text from my mom: “Do you not know bagels are taboo on Passover or are you just stirring the pot? Most bagel stores in New York are closed.” I called my mom to talk it out—she wasn’t mad, but thought I’d offended my Twitter followers (I didn’t)—and then I set about making the dough and watching it rise.