Barking Kitten

Fiction, musings on literature, food writing, and the occasional Friday cat blog. For lovers of serious literature, cooking, and eating.

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Close to forty. Not cool. Politically left. Atheist. Happily married. No kids.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A solitary meal with Elizabeth Friend

Tonight is Hockeyman's office holiday party. He was not clear whether spouses were expected/invited/required to attend. I was only too happy not to press the issue. It's Wednesday, for Godssakes. I got up at five a.m. and worked all day. I gotta do it again tomorrow. An evening alone with a solitary meal sounded divine.

I decided on chard with olive oil, garlic, shallots, and a little butter. Rounding this out, some rice, cooked in the ginger duck broth leftover from our Thanksgiving dinner.

I blogged about that dinner, the recipe coming from Amanda Hesser, who got it from her mother-in-law, Elizabeth.

I sat down to dine with the December 18th issue of The New Yorker, freshly arrived. It's rare that I get first dibs on New Yorkers--H-man always grabs them first, his pile of unfinishd back issues notwithstanding. But I was alone! Ha!

I turned to the table of contents and found Tad Friend's Personal History: "The Playhouse," an essay about his mother, Elizabeth, the woman whose ginger duck broth sat cooling beside the magazine. I then had the singularly coincidental, unplanned experience of reading about the woman who created the meal I was eating. This is not the same as reading about Alice Waters whilst eating something out of Chez Panisse Cooking; generally, cooks plan a recipe. Eating it whilst reading about its creator may come after the fact. Or not.

But here was Elizabeth, so much of her time and place: bright, repressed, WASP-y. Denied a father. Subsuming her talents into marriage and motherhood. Coming into her own a bit once those children--one becoming Tad Friend, staff writer for the New Yorker--were grown.

Doubling the oddity of the experience was my misguided sense of already "knowing" Elizabeth Friend via Amanda Hesser's flattering portrait in Cooking For Mr. Latte. Here, from an entirely different perspective, was the woman I knew whose kitchen was "the workshop of a true cook." (66) That superbly designed kitchen, it turns out, was the result of intense design work by a woman obsessed with architectural detail, a hoarder who remodeled vigorously.

I read the essay, which is sad, forgiving, beautifully written. Elizabeth Friend died soon after Amanda Hesser's depiction of her, killed by the cancer everyone thought she'd beaten. I finished my rice, which had soaked up all the broth, and silently thanked Elizabeth Friend, all too human, for her recipe, and her unexpected company.

The quote comes from Amanda Hesser's Cooking for Mr. Latte. "The Playhouse" appears in the December 18th issue of the New Yorker.

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