When a Stranger Cooks Your Food

I lost my virginity to Ron Leal. It happened recently, in the waning weeks of my fourth decade. The One was there, watching every move, every nuance on my face, as were four others, including Joseph Montebello, Ron’s partner. It wasn’t weird or freaky. In fact, it was one of the sweetest moments in memory: It was the first time someone—a virtual stranger, no less—cooked my food and served it to me and others at a dinner party.

Well, that’s not exactly true. There have been a few times that chefs have cooked from my book—most notably at the Quail Valley Country Club, in Vero Beach, FL. Chef Joe Faria whipped up a three-course dinner from The New Portuguese Table for 70 people. And it was exceptional, extraordinary. But the thing is: I expected it to be exceptional and extraordinary. He’s a chef, after all. But Ron is an ordinary guy of Portuguese descent whom I’ve met just once before, and he had the cojones to invited us over for an intimate evening of food, fun, gossip—all based upon my book.

From what I’ve been told, this is, without a doubt, an experience a cookbook author assiduously wants to avoid. Think about it: What if the cook can’t cook? What if there isn’t a dog I can surreptitiously feed my food to—or there is, but I do so too quickly and unwittingly encourage a heaping pile of seconds? What if the food just plain sucks? I’m no good at lying—blame it on Momma and Poppa Leite. In fact, I’m pathologically predisposed to creating astoundingly awkward moments as I tell you you’re falling out of your dress, you’re marrying the wrong woman, or you have a booger hanging from your nose—all of which I’ve done. (Note to self: Maybe that’s why we have so few friends.) No, this is a situation best avoided. Read more »

Savior on a Stick

Corn Dogs Recipe

June 1988. I stood on the front porch of my friend Patty’s Arlington, Texas, home with suitcases in hand, not unlike Felix Unger in the opening credits of “The Odd Couple.” Like him, I was being thrown out–not out of a tiny Upper East Side classic six–but rather a sprawling six-bedroom casa, complete with pool, three-car garage, automatic sprinkler system, and, what I would miss most, a freezer full of corn dogs. As Patty’s lawyer–a bowling ball with legs who had skin like tobacco-colored crepe paper–put it, I was an “unnecessary risk.”

Patty and her husband, Dan, were getting divorced. While he was shacking up with his dental assistant, I was living non-conjugally with his wife and three kids after I had, for the nth time, denounced New York City. The greater Dallas area was my new home, I told myself, and I embraced it with all the excitement and innocence of Kennedy in 1963.

I chose Dallas because Patty and her two friends, Laverne and Maxine (clearly, not their real names), were planning to open a spiritual center and wanted me to join as advisor. (This was during the time known as the Great Shirley MacLaine Epoch, so forgive any star-blinded lapse in judgment.) I was no more qualified to rope and brand a Texas longhorn that I was to advise these under-sexed, overpaid housewives. But we had met at a conference for the great spiritually unwashed and took a shine to each other. Plus, I’d sublet my apartment for three months as a first step in escaping my strangled existence in NYC. Read more »

Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese Sauce Recipe

Marcella Hazan’s Bolognese sauce recipe is the only Bolognese sauce recipe you ever need. It’s classic, authentic, Italian, easy, and delicious.

Marcella Hazan's Bolognese Sauce Recipe

I come from stirring stock. That is to say, my people are stirrers. It’s how my grandmother, avó Costa, cooked. She stood, facing the stove, for hours in her pink housecoat and pink slippers, her tiny hand planted on her hip, singing in her thin, reedy voice. She stirred all kinds of Portuguese comestibles: spicy stuffing with chunks of homemade chouriço; her famous pink (of course) chicken, rice, and potato soup; and vats and vats of kale soup. When she grew too old to stir her soups and stews for long, I’d do it for her. By then, age had stolen a few inches from her, but she still managed to peer over the tops of the pots and instruct, “Mais devagar, queirdo, mais devagar.” Slower, sweetheart, slower.

Read more »

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