Flowers_David

  I wanted to go to Paris to look, and to see with intent; I wanted to travel small and not be bogged down by expectation or fashion, culinary or otherwise. I wanted to go to Paris simply to be, and to walk it end to end.

Susan and I got back a little while ago — we spent a week there, and then went on to London. It was a trip long-planned and long talked-about, but for years, there were always circumstances that prevented us from going: family issues, illness, work, money, and time all conspired against us. We’ve traveled a lot in the decade and a half we’ve been together: we’ve been to Italy, twice; Nashville; Colorado; New Mexico; San Francisco. Susan flew out to California last year, where my book tour started, and accompanied me to Portland, Seattle, and Ann Arbor (which was actually work, although some folks adamantly refused to believe that that was the case; I challenge them to go to 13 cities in 13 days while also holding down a full-time job for which you have to call in daily and continue to meet your deadlines, and then we’ll talk); we regularly go to Michigan where my family lives; we used to spend a lot of time in Florida; and over the last few years, we’ve visited the Bay Area many times— Marin now sometimes feels like our home away from home, even though it will likely be a long time before we get there permanently (a now-not-so-secret dream). Seine_Color But all this time, Paris has sort of just dangled there like Tantalus’s grapes: just out of reach for some peculiar reason, and not on our psychic travel map. I say peculiar because, let’s face it, people these days think nothing of hopping on a plane and flying over to Da Nang for a week, or to Burma to go hiking. Paris sometimes feel so — I don’t know — so trite. Even though it’s anything but, of course. Anyone who has ever been to Paris knows that a stroll around the Luxembourg Gardens on a warm spring afternoon in May can recalibrate even the most hideous state of mind, and that the French grandmother who decided, eons ago, to wrap a small piece of chocolate in a fresh, steaming croissant and give it to her cranky grandson as an after-school snack should have won a genius grant.

But there’s also the issue that Paris sometimes, in all its beauty, can be more than awe-inspiring: it can often be terrifying. It’s so breathtaking and is so wrapped up in cultural idiosyncrasy — the city and its inhabitants are a mass of raging contradiction — that it’s easy to get overwhelmed and to just shut down behind the biggest sunglasses you can find, the way I did the last time I was there, in 1985.

I went to Paris alone, after graduation from college; my mother insisted that, as a solo traveler and a woman, I had to go on a tour. I loathe tours. There are no words for exactly how very much I loathe tours. But I agreed, to placate her, and spent the entire trip marching around the city wearing huge Terry Bradshaw-sized shoulder pads in my mauve Benetton sweaters, glowering behind my gigantic black Wayfarers and being youthfully, obnoxiously antisocial, except for an abbreviated and extremely misguided alignment with the only other person in the group who was under 70: a wan, straw-haired young man from Albuquerque who dumped his mother, with whom he was traveling, in order to take up with me. [Bad idea, across the board.] All these years later, I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup.

After I got that out of my system, I spent the week doing the other things that I thought I was supposed to do: buying a baguette and eating it while sitting in a park, by myself. Trying to see the Mona Lisa over the heads of a huge passel of Japanese tourists, by myself. Taking the bus to Versailles and walking around, by myself. Drinking a cup of coffee for two hours in a tourist cafe, by myself. Looking serious and dour, and, I thought, very French. By myself. SideStreet How was Paris, my father asked excitedly when I walked through the arrivals gate at JFK a week later. Did you love it?

I don’t know, I said, bleakly.

And really, I didn’t.

Beyond my visits to the Louvre, Versailles, my endless cup of coffee, and my tryst with a man whose mother made it a point to follow us down the Champs Elysees while wearing a red plastic rain poncho over her enormous fanny pack so that we wouldn’t recognize her — well, let’s just say that I didn’t know if I liked Paris. I didn’t know anything about Paris. David's_Kitchen So, after 29 years, it was time to travel to Paris with someone I love, and try, in a short time, to understand whether I liked the city and it liked me back, and whether I would return again and again with Susan, for longer periods of time. We both wanted to travel small — literally; one carry-on and a shoulder bag each. But small also meant other things: we didn’t bother making big, fancy, trendy dinner reservations. I took one camera, my Fuji X-100S, which feels like it’s made for my hands, and Susan took her old, pancake-lensed Nikon SLR.  We rented a small apartment owned by one of my all-time favorite food writer/chefs; it wasn’t in the hippest, coolest section of town (now widely thought to be the 10th Arrondissement), but it was absolutely perfect for us and when the light poured in through the living room windows on our first morning there, we swooned.

The kitchen was small by American standards, but ideal for us. We cooked a little bit every day, and we had a few meals out with friends: a lovely dinner with a wonderful man and writer who might know more about Paris restaurants than any other person I’ve ever met, Alec Lobrano and his partner, and lunch with the incredible cookbook author who might know more about Paris pastry — any pastry, actually — than anyone else on earth, Dorie Greenspan, and her husband. Every day, we got up late, had breakfast at the long dining room table in the apartment, decided what we’d do, and just strolled, and looked; dinner, apart from the few evenings we went out, was always simple, and small.

The first night we were there, shortly after we arrived — plane-disheveled and flatly exhausted — we walked over to the Monoprix and bought a local, pastured chicken — imagine that, in your neighborhood grocery store — that weighed a hair under two pounds, unlike the Volkwagen-sized winged behemoths that we find in the States. French chickens are petite; they force contemplation. They’re tender and pale, and you instantly want to do well by them. They’re not meant to be foamed or centrifuged or turned into snow with the application of maltodextrin; they’re not meant to be pounded or furiously stuffed or man-handled in any way. We patted ours down with a little bit of butter, salt and pepper, and carefully tucked some fresh herbs under the skin. Because we weren’t yet sure about the oven (it being our first night there), we butterflied and pan-roasted it in a stove-top grill pan like the one I have at home in my own kitchen, weighing it down with one of the ancient copper Windsor pans that hung on the wall next to the kitchen window. It tasted small and good and chicken-y.

Like an actual chicken. Chicken_TeaBox   Chicken_Davids_Snapseed And so this small chicken launched my takeaway of Paris, and this is what I learned, both incongruously and not: that the three knives hanging on the magnetic strip next to the kitchen armoire (which held some lovely spices) were enough. I didn’t really need 28 of them, which is how many I have at home. I didn’t really need 18 pots and pans to accomplish a simple dish or two — maybe just a few skillets of varying sizes, or a couple of saucepans, or a not-bathtub-sized soup pot. We drank our wine — rose, white, or red — out of the same small, stackable, onionskin-thin Bodega tumblers. I didn’t really need a red wine glass and a white wine glass and a water glass and a snifter. The refrigerator, which was the sort that’s tucked under the counter, was perfect in its smallness. We really didn’t need anything bigger and in Paris you mostly don’t, because there are outdoor markets every single day and invariably you’ll pass one, you’ll buy what’s fresh, and you’ll cook it that night without fuss or fury because it’ll be so fresh that the less you do to it, the better. The expensive, jewelbox chocolatiers who dot the city are lovely, but the bag of orangettes that you’ll buy for a few euros at Izrael in the Marais will take your breath away, and you’ll dream about them for weeks to come, even though you have no sweet tooth. Izrael So, without the heavy psychic baggage added by fretting — what we were and weren’t supposed to cook; where we were and weren’t supposed to eat; what we were and weren’t supposed to wear; where we were and weren’t supposed to stay; what we were and weren’t supposed to see and where we were and weren’t supposed to be seen — we were freed up to be in Paris together, to relax and to read, to walk, and to look. The smaller we traveled, the more Paris gave to us, and the more we took in.

Yes Papa, wherever you are. I loved it. Lady_cafeBW_Seine

 Stove-Top, Grill-Roasted Chicken

I’ve done enough traveling in Europe — and house-renting — to know that sometimes, it’s just easier to pull out whatever heavyweight pan might be handy, slick it with a little olive oil or butter, and do your cooking directly on top of the stove instead of in the oven (although I’ve been lucky enough to rent places where the ovens have all been perfect, including my friends’ in Paris). Whether you’re dealing with a squab, a guinea fowl, or (as I was) a small chicken, snip out the backbone with some shears, flatten the bird, sprinkle it with salt, and pepper, gently loosen the skin and tuck some fresh herbs beneath the it. Rub it with some softened sweet butter, let it stand at room temperature for about half an hour (if it’s just come out of the fridge, you’ll want to let it stand longer), heat up your (heavyweight) pan, and roast the bird, skin-side down, weighing it down with something heavy (a cast iron or copper pan. Not a dictionary.). Serve with a small green salad and a glass of wine, and you’re done.

Serves 2-3, or, if you’re a French grandmother, 12

1 2-pound chicken, the freshest you can find, at room temperature

Fresh rosemary or thyme sprigs

sea salt

freshly ground black pepper

unsalted butter

Turn the bird upside down and snip out the backbone; discard or reserve for stock. Gently loosen the breast and leg skin, using your fingers. Tuck the herb sprigs between the skin and the flesh, sprinkle the whole bird liberally with salt and black pepper, cover loosely with foil, and set aside for half an hour. Massage on both sides with a tablespoon or two of unsalted butter.

Open your windows; heat a heavy pan over a medium flame until it just begins to smoke; place the bird, skin-side down, in the pan and weight it down with another pan. Roast for fifteen minutes and then it turn over; top it with the weight and continue to roast for another fifteen minutes. Turn the bird back over and continue to roast for another few minutes, until its juices run clear. Remove to a platter, drape it with foil, and let it rest for 10 minutes before quartering and serving it.

 

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Delancey_cover In 2004, Susan and I had just left Harwinton — a small town of 3,500 in rural northern Connecticut — after living there for three years. We first met in the chilly autumn months of 1999, began seeing each other in January of 2000, and moved in together almost a year later, after twelve months of long weekends and weepy Monday morning goodbyes. This was it for me; I knew it was, pretty quickly. And leaving Manhattan — where I was born and raised and where I returned after college — for love was something that didn’t need a whole lot of mulling-over. Some of my friends thought I was out of my mind; my mother didn’t take it well. But love is love, and when I closed the door to my East 57th Street apartment behind me, I could only look, and move, forward. It’s the right thing, my father said to me. It’s love, and love is love. 

Two years after I left New York, on a murky Sunday wet with humidity, my father and his longtime companion were in a car accident that was ultimately fatal for him. I was grief-stricken — am grief-stricken, even now; grief has no time limits or cut-offs, despite the earnest nudgings of well-meaning family members to move forward, to get on with things — and I turned to writing as a way to breathe again. It was all I could do; that, and build my new life together in another state, with my love. Eventually, after three years in a charming small town that had just gotten its first stoplight in 1996, we decided to move closer to New York; Susan had begun working at Random House and couldn’t make the commute from so far away. I was writing for anyone who would let me: newspapers, magazines, websites. I worked as a ghostwriter, a travel writer, a political writer, a restaurant reviewer, a cookbook writer.

You should try food blogging, one of my friends said. There’s this woman out in Seattle who just started doing it.

I looked at her blog; I was instantly captivated by her sense of fun, her bravery, her way of writing about food that was utterly immediate and elemental. I loved her honesty and kindness. She too, I learned, had recently lost her father, and had turned to blogging as a way through her grief. And, in the scores of readers like me who waited for her next post to go up so that I/we would be compelled to cook something that I/we ordinarily wouldn’t (a flan; an egg and tomato gratin; a walnut cake) was a guy — a curly-haired musician who lived on the other side of the country. They found each other on line, as it were, in the way that Susan and I had, years earlier. Mostly. MW by Kyle Johnson Molly Wizenberg and I met, eventually, when we were both speakers at the Professional Food Writer’s Symposium at the Greenbrier. At this point, I was already a dedicated reader of Orangette, and when we said hello I turned into a yammering, stammering, blithering idiot; she was gracious and kind, and a little shy, and she smiled a lot. I thought about her name, Wizenberg—probably, I guessed, from the German, Weisen-berg — and that it translates to mountains of wise men. I read her first book, A Homemade Life. And then I read it again and again, over and over, crying like a damned fool every time. And then laughing, and smiling. And cooking. This, I realized, was life: crying and laughing and smiling. And cooking.

When my late mother-in-law and I were at one of the lowest points in our relationship I baked her Molly’s Hearts and Minds Cake. There was nothing else to do; it saved us, and we moved forward.

Molly’s story is now well-known; she blogged brilliantly, long before blogging was a household word. She met a lovely, kind man, and he left the east coast for Seattle, and they married. But I don’t think anyone would have predicted that, all these years later, she and Brandon would have opened up a pizza restaurant that they were going to call Delancey. I remember her telling me about it in its earliest days.

A pizza restaurant, I thought. How nice. 

I’m from New York — Manhattan by way of Forest Hills, where I grew up with the best pizza in the city literally across the street from my apartment — and so when Molly told me about this place that she and Brandon were opening, I smiled and quietly wondered what the hell they were getting themselves into.

Opening up a restaurant, like love, is a romantic notion, until you do it; instead of cranky exes hovering in the wings waiting to pounce, you have to deal with permits and ovens and tiling and payroll systems and dishwashers and sous chefs and front of house and food deliveries and the one enigmatic character who invariably shows up in the kitchen and turns it, literally, upside down. The act of opening up a restaurant is like giving birth to a baby with an anger management problem; you never know when it’s going to rage, or coo, or rip off its diaper and hurl it at an unsuspecting passer-by. With luck, the end product is so gorgeous, so delicious — so stunning — that the crazy process grows misty and faint, and all you can do is look back at it and know that every drop of sweat and blood that went into it made it what it is.

One weekend shortly after Delancey opened, I flew out to Seattle and Molly fed me Brandon’s pizza and I stopped rolling my eyes. I stopped talking. Here was this man — not a trained chef — who, together, with his wife and against all possible odds, created the best pizza I had ever tasted; his process was honest and pure, his ingredients were honest and pure, and he sourced them as though they were worth their weight in gold.

To this day, it is the finest pizza I have ever tasted anywhere — including New York — produced with focus and attention and a level of integrity that, in a world crawling with poseurs, is hard to find. Sitting at the front counter at Delancey next to Molly, with Brandon in the kitchen sliding gorgeous pies into a blazingly-hot oven, I looked around on my first visit and realized that this was it; this was Molly and Brandon in their life together, moving forward, stepping into their next phase as a couple and a part of their community, in love with the food and the process and everything they had built together. Delancey was their pre-June baby — with all its ups and downs and twists and turns.

It was the right thing, like my father had once told me; love is love.

I was deeply honored to read Delancey-the-book in its earliest inception; Molly’s newest memoir, and the story of the birth of the restaurant during the freshest days of her life together with Brandon is not only the tale of one couple building a dream. It’s the story of building a dream when you don’t even know that that dream is, in fact, your dream; it’s about risk-taking and trust and what it means to put one foot in front of the other and walk through the next stage of your life with the person you adore.

Back in 2004, swimming through a sea of grief, looking for a toehold and something to hang on to that was fast and true in the face of the unknown, I found Molly’s work; her writing, her story, and her food steadied me then, and I still turn to it now when I’m out there, flailing around, unsure of what’s real and what isn’t. Delancey is the delicious tale of Molly’s next chapter; my copy, dog-eared and already falling apart, is a joy to read and re-read.

Thanks Molly, for sharing your world with us. x

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