Last week was one of sugar highs and lows. Halloween on Monday, resulting in way too many Snickers bars lying around the house in plain sight,
disheartening presentations on education reform Tuesday and Wednesday, and the early morning discovery of a dead rat at the bottom of the stairs,
an exhilarating Thursday (culminating in a satisfying European Chicken Night featuring a simple recipe for Chicken Dijon, courtesy of the October issue of Food and Wine magazine) and a dismal, rainy Friday in which we learned of the passing of our dear friend, Kim.
Saturday morning was brighter than expected. I headed to Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood to Book Larder, a new community cookbook store, to see Adam Gopnik, long-time New Yorker writer, and author of the new book The Table Comes First Family, France and the Meaning of Food, a book he says is about how food comes to us from our hearts and minds.
Book Larder has gotten a lot of well -deserved press since it opened last month. Born from the passing of another Kim, Seattle book impresario Kim Ricketts, it’s a place for people who love food to come together and is an important addition to our city’s independent booksellers.
Adam Gopnik’s Paris to the Moon is one of the books that transformed me. I’m not sure whether Gopnik or one of his reviewers said it first, but his writing is about seeing the world in a grain of sand.
The book came out in 2000, when I was the mother of a toddler and soon-to-be- mother of a new baby and the way I viewed the world was already in the process of transformation. On our refrigerator hangs a Get Out of Jail Free Card, Good for a Reading by Adam Gopnik, placed there by my husband Jeff, who was watching me struggle to navigate the passage from world-traveling career woman to stay-at-home mother, and noticing how the small moments in life suddenly meant the world to me. I’ve made use of the card every time Adam Gopnik has been to Seattle ever since.
You should know that Adam Gopnik comes across as a genuinely nice guy. Earlier in the week, I had attended a book presentation by another erudite East Coaster, who was arrogant and insulting to his audience.
Though Gopnik has been criticized for the denseness of his prose and smugness of his lifestyle and was even the subject of a New Republic book review with the opening sentence, “I sometimes wonder if Adam Gopnik was put on this earth to annoy,” in Book Larder’s intimate setting he confessed to reading recipes in bed (there were nods of recognition from around the room), admitted his kids eat junk food, and made it possible to believe that he, too, might possibly confront a dead rat at the bottom of the stairs and eat a Snickers for comfort afterwards, though he would then probably write about the origins of comfort food and reveal that the concept was the brainchild of Louis XIV.
Our friend Kim was a ruminator too, not the neurotic New York variation, but an outdoorsman, teacher and world citizen. After he was felled by a stroke and confined to a wheelchair, in near constant pain and with compromised vision and speech, eating was a chore for Kim. One meal could take hours and no sooner was it cleaned up, then it was time for the laborious process to begin again. Yet eating became one of Kim’s pure pleasures. He cut a dashing figure in the serape he wore because he was always cold, wheelchair anchored in a patch of capricious Pacific Northwest sunshine, reaching with his good hand into a pouch around his neck where he kept a stash of chocolate.
When we visited Kim and his wife Judy, we would often bring food, and the ceremonial meals we shared became the highlight of our time together. At the table, Kim’s irreverent wit and keen intelligence trumped his physical incapacities. The essence of our friend remained unchanged.
The last time we saw him, we dined on smoked salmon, bialys, blueberries, Judy’s brownies and Kim’s favorite — oysters. Jeff reminded me that oysters were also the last food we shared with Kim shortly after he and Judy returned from doing peace mediation work in Africa, and a week or so before his stroke of lightning, four years ago.
Tomorrow night I will participate in an international potluck dinner at my daughter’s school, an event I conceived eight years ago, after a chance conversation with a Mexican father about chilaquiles, one of my favorite comfort foods, reminded me that food (like children) is the great equalizer.
The above link will take you to a recipe by Marilyn Tausend, author of the fantastic book Cocina de la Familia, and to whom I owe a huge public apology for never returning the back issues of Sunset magazine that she lent me many years ago. I hear Ms. Tausend is working on a new cookbook. I hope when it comes out, she’ll be hosted at Book Larder and I can make the proper amends.
I’ll be making Sri Lankan Love Cake for the international potluck, in honor of Kim and everyone else I’ve shared meals with.
You may feel about Adam Gopnik the way some people feel about oysters, but there’s no accounting for taste.
The important thing is that the people around your table touch your heart and your mind.
By now you’ve probably noticed that I don’t create my own recipes, I just collect them (think of me as the Arianna Huffington of the recipe world). I am happy to have found a way to share my favorites.
I’ve added two new food-related sites to my blogroll: The Garum Factory (check out their method for separating kale leaves from stems. It was the most fun I had all week) and Food 52, Amanda Hesser’s online food community. I got a good look at the new Food 52 cookbook and several other enticing food tomes and am hoping that anyone in my family at a loss for what to get me for Christmas, will give me a gift certificate to Book Larder.