“The Finest Hot Pastrami Sandwich in the World” (Lunch at Langer’s)

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I remember reading the New Yorker in 2002 when Nora Ephron declared the pastrami sandwich at Langer’s in Los Angeles “the finest hot pastrami sandwich in the world.”

As a New Yorker who grew up on the east coast (both in New York and Florida, major pastrami territories) I found this hard to believe. When I shared this tidbit with others, they’d be offended. “The best pastrami’s in L.A.? No way,” would be a typical response. On Saturday I brought Craig, Mark and Diana to Langer’s to experience this blasphemy firsthand. All three of us moved to L.A. from New York in the past year; would Langer’s really hold a candle to Katz’s? Was Nora Ephron just being provocative? Did we really want to eat pastrami on a hot summer’s day? These were important questions and after a short drive on the 101 (exit: Alvarado) we were ready to answer them.

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The Recipes We Leave Behind

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Marion Cunningham’s death is a sad occasion, one that’s fostered many loving tributes from distinguished food writers like Kim Severson and Michael Bauer. Many of these tributes make mention of her recipes, in particular her raised waffles (which I’ve made before, see picture above) and her baking powder biscuits (which I haven’t but plan to make right away). Similarly, at Nora Ephron’s memorial service, ushers passed out copies of her favorite recipes (for tzimmes, for brisket, for egg salad) as a way to remember her.

These recipes aren’t like letters found in a shoebox or dusty pictures hanging on a wall. Most artifacts from someone’s life are inanimate, frozen-in-time. Letters and pictures don’t ask anything of you; recipes do. To follow a recipe, you have to go food shopping. You have to get out your cooking equipment. You have to pre-heat the oven. You have to prep your ingredients. Most importantly, you have to conjure forth—patiently, carefully, thoughtfully—a specific taste that replicates, in some way, the taste captured by the recipe author when they wrote down those words.

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