@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.


Seriously? Simon Winchester? So Freakin’ Cool!

This one is really short.  Promise.  Because I can only stand so much of my own gorpy fan behaviour.

First, Paula Poundstone followed me on Twitter.  Then CBS News (but then they dropped me, sigh). Then Molly O’Neill.  Now Simon Winchester.

In the pantheon of book writers I admire, he’s in the top three.  And if I’m actually at the moment reading, or re-reading, one of his books, as I am now (The Atlantic, which is utterly wonderful & brilliant & engaging), then he’s Number One.

It was actually Simon Winchester who turned me on to the genre called “literary non-fiction” with a book called The Professor & The Madman.  I’ve read it twice now, and could easily read it again, but I haven’t gotten through all of Mr Winchester’s books yet, and there are quite a number of other LNF books waiting for me, so I might have to wait a while to get back to the history of Oxford English Dictionary.  In the meantime… Mr Winchester is following me on Twitter.  So freakin’ cool!

FYI, if you too are a fan of literary non-fiction, today is the day the Charles Taylor prize is handed out.  This is a Canadian book award which has been kicking around for about 6 or 7 years, and I have a very distant and completely unimportant connection to the prize (other than trying to read the short listed books every year), which is my dear cousin, Dr David Staines, is one of the trustees for the prize.  Also pretty cool!

Check out the short list for yourself, and maybe we can discuss books next time.


Vita Brevis, Listis Long-as-My-Heart: in emulation of Her Bad Mother

I had heard the term ‘mommy bloggers’, but had never read one until I stumbled on Her Bad Mother when I first started Tweeting.  Someone who I was following followed @herbadmother and retweeted something Catherine wrote.  I laughed my ass off, started following her myself on Twitter, and now read her blog pretty faithfully.

I’m a  huge fan now – of Catherine’s energy and passion, her love for and commitment to her family and friends, her ranting, her praising, her joy.  Everything that rolls through her head seems to show up on her blog, and I think that’s a very good thing, for writer and readers alike.  I’d want to be like Catherine when I grow up, although I suspect she would say that she’s not sure she’s actually grown up.

Anyway, one of the things she’s done on her blog is to create her ‘bucket’ list which she called Vita Brevis, List Longa. I changed my title a little (didn’t want to completely rip her off) but the idea is the same.  These are things I think about, the experiences I seek (or wish were mine to have enjoyed, in the case of the historical ones), the truths about which I am most curious.  I’ve broken my Listis into several parts, and it will always be an on-going thing, hopefully with a few things crossed off the list, and lots more added to it.

Who:  I would prefer to lunch or dine with these people, maybe around my own table, but would willingly settled for martinis & lots of great talk, not necessarily about their areas of expertise!

  • Dr Oliver Sacks (I am in love with his mind & spirit)
  • Dr Temple Grandin (an interview by phone is not the same)
  • Robert DeNiro (we share a birthday)
  • Simon Winchester (who has written two of my favourite books of all time)
  • Molly O’Neill (my MFK Fisher)
  • Roger Ebert (even when I disagree with his film reviews, I love his politics)
  • Scott Simon, Jake Tapper & Brian Williams (the 3 US broadcast journalists I listen to/watch)
  • The Prince of Wales (to discuss organic farming and modern architecture, and to ask if he intends to take on a true leadership position in these areas when he becomes king)
  • Colin Firth (… and the second reason is, he truly is an extraordinary actor)
  • General Romeo Dallaire (a hero, in the best & most honest sense of the word)
  • US Vice President Joe Biden (an honest man, and embodiment of the reasons why so many people still believe in the American dream)
  • Michael J Fox & Tracy Pollan (have you read his books? that’s why)
  • Chuck Lorre, Aaron Sorkin and Shonda Rhimes (because I think they write really great television, and I would love to hear them discuss it)
  • and Her Bad Mother, of course

What: Some of these things might actually happen, some are beyond my scope of making happen, but all are things I dream about.

  • Standing at the top of the Eiffel Tower on a moonlit night, seeing Paris for the first time with a man who will love me forever
  • Finding a really good editor and publisher who loves “This Town” (working title) as much as I do and wants to publish it
  • Directing a play, professionally
  • Riding camels in the Egyptian dessert
  • Taking a long, slow gondola ride in Venice, with someone actually singing Italian love songs as we rippled along the canals (a late spring activity)
  • Cooking with Bobby Flay
  • Skydiving
  • Riding a hot air balloon
  • Having a one-line role in play at Stratford or at Shaw (whichever one offered me the gig first)
  • Playing anything by Chopin on the piano – which requires learning to play the piano first
  • Singing “Route 66” – the only jazz standard I can actually sing and sing well – with Diana Krall
  • Writing & publishing a cookbook based on my family’s love of cooking & entertaining, especially relying on my mother’s (and some of my grandmothers’) recipes
  • Learning to actually ride a horse
  • Owning a race horse (I’d call him Christmas Fielding)
  • Asking James Lipton the Pivot questions
  • Have a rose named for me
  • Dancing in the fountains at Versailles
  • Learning to tap dance
  • Actually, learning to dance a box step should come first
  • Taking the younger nieces & nephews to DisneyLand in California, and the older ones, with one husband & one long-time girlfriend, to Umbria

When: These are events/happenings/eras I would have liked to be part of… or at least a fly on the wall for. Some are pretty obvious, but some are about what I believe in or wonder about, and none are possible until Dr Sheldon Cooper invents his time machine

  • New York City during WWII, hanging around with the writers and other cultural icons of the day
  • In the studio for a day while Edward R. Murrow worked (& I choked on the cigarette smoke)
  • One day on the bus during the Obama presidential campaign (but a good day, please)
  • Churchill Downs, trackside, the day Secretariat won the Kentucky Derby
  • Four days in Victorian England: one as a servant, one has an aristocratic man, one as a married woman in Society, and one as a merchant or other member of the rising middle class
  • One day on Ellis Island at the turn of the 20th century
  • One day each Sir Wilfrid Laurier and with Pierre Trudeau – compare & contrast
  • Get back the day I met Mike Harris and, knowing what I know now, give him a much bigger piece of my mind than I did that day!
  • The day the first steam engine train rolled, I would have liked to be a passenger on it
  • Been in the CBC studio the day the first radio broadcast happened
  • Heard Beverly Sills sing her first Met role, live
  • To be in Paris on Liberation Day
  • Hung around with Mordechai Richler for a day
  • Hung around the Algonquin Round Table for a day
  • Spent a week at MGM studios in its  heyday
  • One day at Los Alamos, before the test
  • One day with Itzhak Rabin – but not the last one
  • Watching my friend Conor Vilaca make his Broadway debut (this is a future event which I am sure will happen)

Where: These are places (mostly cities, because I like cities) I long to visit without any particular, or little, agenda in mind.

  • The Faeroe Islands (this one actually does have a big agenda)
  • Tokyo
  • Istanbul
  • The Maldives
  • Qalia Resort in Australia
  • Hawaii – but not Honolulu
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Stavanger, Norway
  • all of Denmark
  • Santiago, Chile
  • St Petersburg, Russia
  • Glasgow

This list is long enough as it stands, but isn’t nearly comprehensive enough.  My dreams are still so big… and I’m running out of time!  I mean, I recognize intellectually I don’t have half a life time left to live any more, but emotionally, I want to believe that all the things I want and hope for are still possible.

This is not to say that I am ungrateful for what I have and for what I’ve done. Even considering the things that have gone horribly wrong, or the people I love who have died (most of whom having done so in their time), this is a pretty good life I’ve lead and have still today.  Although it’s going through one of those periods of great transition – again! – I have Jeff (and he  has me), we have wonderful family, and we have amazing friends, so the transition is not ours to make alone.

Listis Long-as-My Heart is partly a dream, partly an exercise, and partly… about tomorrow.

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.