Sunday, March 7, 2010


I have a truly disgusting number of cookbooks. I keep hoping that I will find the ULTIMATE cookbook that will address all my needs and wants. As I continue what is becoming something of a pointless search, I keep returning to the tried and true. It's a small and elite group; let me share them with you.

I have basically one thing to say about Martha Stewart: she puts on a good show. Her recipes aren't particularly innovative or unique, but, man, can she orchestrate a photo shoot. If you want ideas about presentation, she's the only game in time. Her books are worth buying solely for the photographs.

The Silver Palate people, books one and two: I use these books constantly. The recipes successfully combine both the classic and innovative (the best of both worlds).

Nancy Silverton's books. All of them. Yes, she's brilliant. Buy them. I don't care what the title is, bread, pastry, sandwiches, whatever; the woman knows what she is doing.

Cucina Fresca by La Place and Kleiman. Where I live it gets hot during the summer. Last summer we had weeks of unrelentingly blazing days where cooking was about as appealing as lighting one's hair on fire. Except the family insists on eating, the sods. Anyway, this is an SUPERB book for summer fare. I use it from May until September and it never disappoints.

Your basic dessert book: she is now out of fashion, but you cannot go wrong with Maida Heatter's books. The recipes are extremely detailed and yet simple; they are geared for the ambitious novice. See Nancy Silverton's dessert books as well .If you're looking for something much more challenging, Rose Levy Barenbaum has a number of books out that are exacting and foolproof. And I mean exacting.

If I had to choose a cuisine that I had to dedicate my life to it would be Italian cuisine (my love for Julia Child notwithstanding). Of course, the Italian answer to Julia is Marcella Hazan (as stern a task master as Julia). I would also recommend three additions: Biba Caggiano books are a delight, Rose Grey and Ruth Rogers' "Italian Two Easy" is good, as is James Beard's "Beard on Pasta." In the hype for the search for the latest "star," he's being eclipsed by others, which is a shame because he was a damn good cook.  His "Beard on Pasta" is a no-nonsense basic primer on pasta. The mac and cheese recipe is to die for.

So what are you waiting for? Get cooking!

What cookbooks do you return to again and again?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Up Side

My childhood was a series of moves. This was not the fault of my mother, bless her heart, but extenuating circumstances and my father and life. Except for that brief period when my father decided to start anew and moved my mother down to L.A. (and then two weeks later decided that family life was not his baliwick and fled to Alaska; I wish I was making this up, but I'm not), I've spent all my life in the Bay Area.

After my father returned from Alaska (okay, kicked out for practicing medicine without a license, so family legend goes), my parents decide to make one more try. You can imagine how that went. Anyway, my father wasn't a bad man, just a very confused and sad one, and over the years he really tried. That his efforts always failed is immaterial in a way. Until he remarried, my parents occasionally played "married" in that they would take us out for dinner and we would pretend to be a real family. This wasn't as pathetic as it sounds.

My father was born into the wrong class and the wrong time. I can actually see him as the younger, impoverished son of the some earl who went off to the colonies to make his fortune. I have something of a fixation on the British colonial settlement of Kenya and, boy, he'd have fit right in. In reality, he was the son of a clerk and had a fairly impoverished upbringing in Glasgow. I guess you'd call his family the gentile poor. But he was definitely out of place, because he had a tremendous sense of adventure. When I was a kid, we never went out to dinner. We journeyed to dinner, to strange out of the way diners and restaurants in what then was the hinterlands. He loved to drive and a night out with Dad was never less than a thirty-mile jaunt somewhere.

The point of all this is that there is a restaurant near my current house. It's been in business since I've been ten and I'm now fifty-three. And one of the first things we did when we moved out here was to go to this restaurant. And the same woman who was hosting when I was a kid was STILL there. And so was most of the staff. We went there for dinner last night. The old hostess has now retired, but many of the same staff are still there. There's a busboy that has been there since I was a kid.

It's cool to take your kids to a place where you can say, hey, I came here with your grandparents when I was ten. And it's the same. It's like a time warp but not. Like I said. Cool.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Sad Day

I usually keep things fairly anonymous here, because, well, real people versus real nuts on the Internet, but having someone like David be anonymous would somehow be a travesty. Because he was the antithesis of "anonymous."  Yesterday I attended the funeral of a friend. He was, technically, my husband's friend, an ex-co-worker that he'd kept in touch with, or I should say kept in touch with him. Because that's what David excelled at. Keeping in touch. People meant something to him. Nobody was a "ship in the night."

I'm guessing there were over 250-350 people at his memorial, people standing and overflowing into an adjacent room. That's the kind of person he was. Given he was an architect, it seemed fitting that his memorial be held at Julia Morgan-designed chapel and the reception following at the U.C. Faculty Club (a Maybeck-designed building). This was the second memorial in a month that I've attended at the Faculty Club, and while I love that building, cripes, enough already!

David Lew was only forty-eight when he died; far too young as they say. Man, did he pack it in. While that's very true--and people kept saying that over and over again, like it was supposed to bring all of us solace, like a life spent watching soaps all day and eating Funyuns couldn't be compared to what an action-packed life David lived--it sure didn't offer any solace to either his parents or his wife, I wager. Because people like that leave a void.

He died of pancreatic cancer. My parents are medical types (as is my husband's father) and when David emailed us with his diagnosis, we looked at each other. A year, tops? David managed to eke out a really good two years. While the last six months were total hell, he weathered that like the enormously brave person he was, with humor and guts.

You can't help but personalize these events, and I kept thinking, how in the blue blazes is Sharon, his wife, holding up? Also, there was a wonderful slide show, which people contributed to, and I realized that my husband always takes the pictures. I'm not a camera person. That needs to stop. I need to start taking pictures. Not for the ghoulish purpose of having pictures for his memorial, but to give my husband a place at the various events in our lives. A place he deserves.

As always in these situations (which are happening more and more), I think about the people left behind. His parents must be in hell. If you have children you absolutely know that the worst thing in the whole fucking world would be to bury a child. Slight less but still hellish; burying a younger sibling. David was the much younger sibling of older siblings, and, yeah, talk about voids. There is a sense of natural order here that is being turned on its head. While the thought of my mother dying is enough to send me into suppressed hysterics (if one can have suppressed hysterics), it wouldn't be like losing my sister, whom I expect to pre-decease because, hey, natural order. I couldn't look at his parents and his brothers and sister without wondering if they felt their world was not only about grieving, but also about being profoundly off-kilter. Like the world's axis was off and the sun shutting down kind of off-kilter.

Then we come to David's wife, Sharon. Like all larger than life types who tend to whirly-gig through their days, David needed an anchor, and Sharon was his anchor. As I sat there with my husband, who handed me Kleenex at the appropriate moments (a wee tip; take Kleenex to funerals), I realized that Sharon had no one to hand her Kleenex at funerals. Or someone to hold her hand when it got too overwhelming. And yes, there were lots of people there for her (her sister has obviously been a total rock), but it's not the same. Of course you want someone to travel with and hold your passport when you're putting your shoes back on. And sit across the table from you while you both drink expensive wine in Parisienne brasseries. But it really all boils down to having someone hand you a Kleenex when you need it. THAT someone, not just anyone.

It was a sad day, despite the blue skies after a week of incessant rain, despite the daffodils in full bloom, despite the magnolia trees just starting to bud. A very sad day.