Eating Oscar

This Sunday, at my own exclusive petite soirée attended by just The One, our very in-the-know entertainment publicist friend, Ellen, and moi, I want to sidestep the usual lineup of smarmy suspects for Academy Awards party fare. We have a close friend who’s a Hollywood event planner, so I’ve seen and heard it all, from the divine to the ridiculous. And I’ve devoured just about every permutation of show chow at glammed-up (or, worse, funked-down) NYC parties, including Oscar-shaped grilled cheese-and-bacon-sandwiches, glittery gold-leaf desserts, and black-tie nibbles (read: nothing but black-and-white food, such as caviar and sour cream on squid ink blini). And, of course, anything served on silver plates so guests could admire themselves almost as much as their favorite egomaniacal nominees.

This year, I’m going for something a little easier, a little less forced. To come up with possible dishes I played a game of word association, or rather, nomination association. It went like this: Renee and I faced each other, and she shot the name of a nominee at me. I said the first recipe that popped into my head, based upon my vast, deep, and preternatural understanding of every recipe and every last piece of minutiae on this site. Read more »

A Light Forever Dimmed

Nature may abhor a vacuum, but, apparently, it adores symmetry. On February 16, 1992, one of the people who indelibly shaped my life—my maternal grandmother—died. Feelings of security and optimism and a sense of self, now so resolute that they seem hardwired into my DNA, got their toehold in quiet afternoons cooking with her at her ancient white stove, a triple layer of cardboard wedged under one shapely leg—the stove’s, not hers.

This February 16th, someone else who had an impact on my life died. It’s not, mercifully, The One, a family member, or a friend. But still, my life got a little dimmer—by about 100 watts. The person: Ronald Howes, Sr.

In the early ‘60s, Mr. Howes invented the toy that, powered by two low-watt light bulbs, came to delight battalions of little girls—and me: Kenner’s Easy-Bake Oven. Just as my grandmother found ways of shunting my breathtaking lack of athletic prowess into hours of cooking, Mr. Howes gave me an out. And an outlet. Whenever my three cousins—Barry, TJ, and Jeff—would ask me to go out and play some form of ball (whether base, foot, or basket), I had an excuse. “I’m baking cakes with Claire,” I’d shout through the window. Claire, another cousin, was the official owner of a harvest gold Easy-Bake Oven. And when the inevitable and expected ridicule was heaped on me, I would bake with a fury. Read more »

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

Spaghetti alla Carbonara Recipe

My introduction to spaghetti alla carbonara was nothing less than ignoble. In the early ’90s, I encountered the recipe in a low-fat, low-cholesterol cookbook I had borrowed from my friend Diane, a stick-thin Stairmaster mistress. Diane, who has an impeccable palate, nonetheless wanted slim-down versions of her favorite dishes during the week so that she could splurge on the real thing during weekends. The recipe—which in its unadulterated form is rich with eggs, pancetta, grated cheese, and plenty of freshly ground pepper—was an anemic version of itself. The final dish was a concoction of egg substitute, artificial bacon bits and low-fat grated cheese. After a few bites, I decided to steer clear of the dish—and the book.

Five years later, on a trip to Italy, several friends and I were dining at Vecchia Roma, on the Piazza Campitelli in Rome, and there on the menu was spaghetti alla carbonara. I was resolute in my aversion, and instead ordered risotto with shrimp and whitefish—utterly delicious, but like an ABBA song, I couldn’t get carbonara out of my head. Read more »

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