@onebigtable – Loving Molly O’Neill

Actually, as I’ve been perusing One Big Table, published by Simon & Schuster, producers of great books AND Carly Simon, I realized that I don’t just love Molly O’Neill, but I also love more than 500 people across the United States who look at food as a source of pleasure and entertainment and renewal, as well as required fuel.

I won this book in a Twitter contest and have been waiting what seems like years for it to arrive – although obviously that’s just my impatient 5-year old inner self talking.  So far, I haven’t cooked anything from it (which is partly because we were at my in-laws from where I picked it up, and partly because, as you may have read, we’re packing and cooking & packing don’t go together well), but I’ve already got about 14 little stickies hanging out with stars & exclamation points to indicate this must be made as soon as the pots are unpacked!

I will be making Chris Burrill’s Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette on Friday, when we go to Sally & Michael’s for dinner. (They eat from their root cellar all winter long and while Strattons Farm produces great pork, chicken & veg, I think by March they are probably getting a little bored with squash and cabbage so we’re bringing salad.)  Plus, I’m very tempted to make some ice cream, any ice cream, before we store the Italian ice cream maker away for the next two years.  Sigh.  There is no room where we are moving for the ‘fun’ appliances so it has to go away for a while….

Gosh, talk about detours… I did not intend to talk about ice cream makers when I started this.  I want to talk about this book.  I read on another wordpress blog that there is a bit of a contretemps about how a couple of the recipes in One Big Table wound up in the book, and I’m really sorry to hear that, and I’m quite sure that any challenges this may raise will be solved because…. the book is amazing!

All those contributors, all those kitchens & gardens, the families & friends who have been part of some many wonderful meals…. It’s making me homesick!  Can that make sense?  It makes me think about dinner with my parents and five siblings, and whatever neighbourhood or school friends who wandered and managed to stick around to have supper with us, when my mother would make “goof”, her peculiar hamburger-noodle-vegetable casserole that became so famous the hometown paper profiled it.  Or, before foodies (re-)discovered organ meat, having tongue or heart or liver and enjoying them because my mother made them taste good.  And then discovering new cooking methods and new ethnic cuisines, never forgetting the hearty Mennonite meals we came from.

What happened to us, our North American culture, that we have broken cooking and eating and food into two separate and definitely not equal camps:  One side tells us that food is fuel and we should stop glamorizing it or advertising it or doing anything with it other than eating a little of it, and making most of what we do it vegetable based (and in the extreme, not even cooked).  The other side waxes poetic about esoteric ingredients and demands authentic preparations, even if they don’t know what that is, and bores easily before moving on to some other craze.

Yucky!  On both your heads!

Cooking is a pleasure – it’s a way to take wonderful ingredients, as many of them locally produced and sourced as I can possibly do, and with the help of a couple of good kitchen implements, turn them into something that’s hot (or cold!) and savoury (or sweeet!) and comforting and delicious and… renewing.  I am not a crafty person – I don’t sew or knit or scrapbook.  I cook.  I turn raw pork into “pork brown betty” and make composed salads at the drop of a hat and will turn a package of pasta, two tins of crushed tomatoes and some shrivelled veg in the bottom of the crisper intoa Sharing the meals, even if just with Jeff, is renewing.  We have some time to talk or laugh or share, we argue a little over who’s turn it is to wash up, and we have renewed our marriage in a tiny but important way.  We have learned over the years that being in the kitchen at exactly the same time, sharing the work load 50-50 is a great way to argue a LOT, so when we are in the kitchen together, one of us definitely takes the helper/small task role, but even so, that’s great fun.


Molly O’Neill @onebigtable

I am one of those gorpy fan people.  I can’t help it.  I try not to embarrass myself, but somehow I always bloody do.

There was the time I stepped on, crunched on, Jane Fonda’s toes… in the midst of her exercise celebrity!  There was the time I ploughed into Robin Williams while he was shopping with his son (and this was literally the day before he started shooting DEAD POET’S SOCIETY, a movie on which I very peripherally worked)!  There was the time I baked Rick Moranis butter tarts, only to find out they were just about the only goy food he didn’t like!  And then there was the time, at the airport in Boston, where if I had stood staring at Dr Andrew Young for one second more, I think the Secret Service would have arrested me; I so wanted to go over & shake his hand and just say ‘thank you’ but no, I was the complete & utter gorpy fan person.


So now I try to avoid too many situations where I can be gorpy, but today, without leaving my house, it happened all over again.  See, I am a huge Molly O’Neill fan.  If there are 3 people who know who she is…yea!  You must be friends of mine.  For those of you who don’t… she’s amazing.  She writes about food and people and life with such gentleness and insight.  She’s the writer I would like to be someday, and she even has a ‘beat’ I would love to cover.

For about ten years, Molly (like I know her – Molly!) was a food writer and columnist for the New York Times/Sunday Magazine.  I cooked from her column a lot, and never had a failure/disappointment with her stuff.  But it was the way she wrote that always delighted me.  And to this day, I have a story of hers, saved in my “Writers I Wish I Was” file (seriously, I have this file, centre drawer, right hand side).  It’s about her dad and her brother (big time baseball player Paul O’Neill) and a taxi ride.  Simple stuff, and yet so not.

Anyway, I kind of lost track of what she was doing for a few years and then I found out about One Big Table on Twitter.  I am a Twitter freak and am always exploring for new people to follow, new (or old) interests to ignite, and amongst the several publishing firms I follow was hers!  Which lead me to follow @onebigtable on Twitter and eventually to her website.  And that got me all excited about finding her again, and following her, and longing to get her book but you know the state of my cookery bookshelf… it’s a little crowded.

But this afternoon she had a contest… and I won!  Well, I was one of three… but that still makes me a winner!  Coming soon in the mail to me is a brand-new copy of ONE BIG TABLE by Molly O’Neill.  Please picture me with big cheesy grin.

And it gets better!  I tweeted my thanks, she tweeted back… and now Molly Freaking O’Neill is following me on Twitter. Now please picture me with an even bigger and slightly stupid grin.  God, I’m so gorpy.

I really shouldn’t be this excited about someone following me on Twitter, I know that.  But I am.  More excited, in fact, than I was when J. Kelly Nestruck started following me as the tweeting voice of another life, and I was pretty damned excited about that!

I mean, have you ever met someone you really, really admire, and it turns out that you made a really good impression on them?  Do you remember how that felt?  Well, that’s sort of what this means to me.  My father loved MFK Fisher; to him, she was the perfect food writer, not just because of her love of food & place, but because she told the stories of food & place so well.  That’s who Molly O’Neill is to me, my MFK Fisher.

So when I get the book and have absorbed it, and when I know the website better, I will be cooking.  And I will be inviting friends to join us at our table as we share food & stories & life.

Thank you Molly O’Neill.  From the bottom of my Paderno stock pot, thank you.