When I was 15 years old I went to Royce Hall at UCLA to see Marcel Marceau. I really hate admitting that because people razz me about it all the time, but honestly, I was dazzled by what I saw. The idea that you could make people laugh without uttering one word fascinated me. Seeing him play the strong man in the circus and give the illusion of holding an enormous barbell as he bends all the way back to the ground, or “walkeeng against zee weend”, or being trapped in ‘zee box’, just blew me away man.
I don’t know what gave me the balls to do this, but I went backstage. After gushing for 5 minutes I asked him if he could recommend someone in Los Angeles who could teach me the technique. Let me first say, that when he opened his mouth and spoke, out came a high-pitched, reedy voice. He chose the right trade. But the guy was so kind and gracious. He told me that Richmond Shepard was a former student of his and a good teacher.
Clementine, the great west-side L.A. charcuterie has amazing candies, too...
Ok, so I love Shirley Temple. Anyone who thinks I’m a sap can eat me. She was a genius. There’s never been a child performer who could do what she did. At the age of 3, she could sing, dance and act.
When she uh, matured, one of the many things she did was a television show called Shirley Temple’s Storybook. It ran from 1958-1960. She did all the classics and even starred in some of them.
As young as I was, I was aware of the schism between her matronly plumpness and the tight fitting costumes she squeezed into as she appeared as The Little Mermaid among others. But, that never diminished my love for her.
One story stayed with me always. It was Pippi Longstocking. Everything about it captivated me. What the hell did I know about adaptations and TV versions? I was 7. All I knew was I wanted to be her. She was free of parents, her life was one rip snortin’ adventure after another and she had magical powers….one of which was her supply of Smart Pills. And you know what they were? CARAMEL COVERED MARSHMALLOWS!!!!!!!!!! That’s right! Not only did I happen to love See’s Scotch Kisses I really needed to be smarter! Ok, so I really didn’t believe it. But I loved the fantasy of it. Just like I loved eating spinach as I hummed the Popeye theme song.
I was recently given a gift of an out of print cookbook called The
Molly Goldberg Cookbook. When I first saw it I was amused and when I
opened it up, I immediately saw a cabbage recipe I wanted to make.
Score! Here was a cookbook that had that “Through The Looking Glass”
aspect to it. These were recipes long forgotten, mysterious in their
1950-ness, soon to be resurrected by me!
I had a faint notion of who Molly Goldberg was; however, despite the constant ‘jokes’ in my house about my age I was actually too young to have seen The Goldbergs on TV. It still amazes me that I saw Amos n’ Andy. The premise of this prototype for all subsequent sit-coms was the lives of Jewish immigrants, usually featuring a solvable family or friend-related problem. Molly, in her infinite “Jewish Mama” wisdom would involve herself in these neighborhood and family dramas dispensing invaluable advice.
The other day, my daughter Hannah and I stopped by Surfas. It always surprises me when she wants to go there, since their prepared food is, lets just say..um..esoteric. She ordered the 72 layer biscuit with ham and cheese and drank a Bubble Up. Oh to be 13, 5’5” and weigh 98 lbs. After that, as we crossed over into the store, a fellow cradling a basket of hot baguettes narrowly missed running into me as he made his way to his station or should I say ‘kingdom’, because this guy rules!
Hannah and I watched him set up the baguettes and tend to a customer at the newly established Cheese Bar. If you haven’t been to Surfas lately, there have been some delightful additions to the whole experience.
Francois Truffaut has been famously quoted about the process of making a movie being similar to a wagon train crossing the country. You start out the journey with high hopes and the spirit of adventure and halfway through, you just want to get there alive.
That’s pretty much what my journey with cooking has been like. I seduced my husband with duck breast and wild rice pancakes with apricot sauce. That was nothin’. I really loved to cook. People were always surprised by that and I was always surprised they were surprised. What? Women in comedy can’t cook? Every Hungarian Jewish woman has to be a good cook. It’s biological destiny.
I have a 1932 copy of The Joy of Cooking that’s being held together at the spine with duct tape. The book, like so many things my mother gave me or tried to impart to me, has become a cherished item only years after her death.
I wasn’t that close to my mother. I know she loved me very much, but she was a talented woman who was bored to death with mothering (I have two older siblings) by the time my twin brother and I came along. I can dig it. I would have had more kids myself, but if I had to sing “Wheels on The Bus” one more time, someone was gonna get hurt.
There are certain social barriers we face throughout our lives, that when knocked down, make a big impression on us. Especially when you’re a kid. When I was in the 6th grade at Hawthorn Elementary School my homeroom teacher whose name escapes me, but for our purposes let’s just call her Miss Pritchard, had a kickass ginger snap recipe. Up until that time the store bought ones always burned my tongue so I just ruled them out in my cookie lexicon. They were also flat where Miss Pritchard’s were fluffy and thick. The sugar that dusted the store bought ones gave off that diamond glint but Miss Pritchard’s looked like something you saw when you opened a treasure chest. They were also crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside. Hoo yeah!
My idea of a good time is dragging my sorry ass up the stairs after a long day, plopping down on the bed, snuggling with my husband and watching re-runs of Law and Order or, if God REALLY loves me, a NEW episode of Real Time With Bill Maher. This 4 star vacation is earned after a day of schlepping kids, policing homework and of course the dance of death known as feeding everyone.
I’ve lost the will to live at that point, so preparing food for myself is out of the question. I hastily eat something over the sink or bring things up to the bed that can be dipped or combined such as pesto with bread and diet coke, or Cheezits and Cranberry Juice. Oy.
There are those who are intuitive cooks. They can just rustle up some ingredients from their pantry and freezer and blithely come up with a smashing meal with the effortless grace that leaves someone like me scratching their head feeling like a pair of brown shoes in a world of Tuxedos.
Sure, I can follow a recipe and that can fool some people into thinking I’m a good cook, but the thing that separates the gifted from the wannabes is baking. One time I endeavored to create a fat-free, whole grain bar that my friend Marcia Strassman christened ‘tree bark’ after taking one bite.
My cupcakes have come out of the oven with all the promise of a Sprinkles alternative only to cool to the dry sludgy consistency of play dough mixed with sawdust. I don’t get it. I did everything right. What’s the secret?
I could live with these set backs, if it weren’t for the fact that what I’d really like to master is a stinkin’ Piecrust and I can’t even get that right! My Aunt Lovey, whose stuffing recipe is in the archives, also made a sensational Piecrust. Often I considered Piecrust a necessary evil to get to the reward of the sugared fruit interior, but not her crusts. They had a crisp, savory texture of, well, I can’t think of anything to compare them to really. I just know that I loved nothing more than to break off the edges of them and crunch on them and combine their savory flavors in my mouth along with the sweet fruit of the pie.
Given my love of sugar and horror, its no surprise that the first cookbook I used was by Mary and Vincent Price. It was called A Treasury of Great Recipes. Long before you had the countless husband and wife teams traveling and writing about the places they've eaten, you had Mary and Vincent Price, of all people, with photographs and anecdotes told in what is clearly Price's voice. Charming and funny, he was a wonderful raconteur and gourmand.
The first thing I made from that cookbook was an Apricot Mousse. My mother would make it and put it in these adorable little ceramic pots with lids on them and called them pot de crème. That's why, when I went to look up the recipe, I though I'd hallucinated the whole thing because that wasn’t how it was categorized in the cookbook. But it enabled me to take a walk down cookbook memory lane. It was bittersweet to gaze upon my dusty volumes of Gourmet's compendiums. So sad. But, I digress.