Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Two Cooks in the Kitchen

Chef and I trying to come up with a menu for y'all...
Flying back to New York tomorrow--back to the land of take-out sushi and overpriced cocktails...

What is Jamie working on?...

Monday, January 30, 2006

Fifth Avenue Rich

Fifth Avenue at the base of Central Park--within arm's reach of the gargoyles of the Plaza Hotel--is the place to be rich. I always think of this. Possibility and a brilliant future loom large when you walk past the row of Hansom cabs, tuck into a warm bowl of minestrone soup in the elegant, low-ceilinged confines of "Cipriani's," admire the silks and cashmeres in the window of "Bergdorf Goodman." I walk these beautiful blocks alone in the summer and wintertime thinking about the gold watches I want to buy, the roof-top terraces I will own, the vacations I must take and then describe in letters back home. When the July heat beats down, I step into a store perfumed with retail extravagance, cooled down to the temperature of my local Cineplex back home. In the bitter February snow, I warm up by the fires of street vendors roasting chestnuts or on the dark, velvet banquet of the St. Regis. I've always been able to go anywhere and do anything because I'm young and just pretty enough. But, now all that is changing.

Ever-present in my mind: Granddaddy, Jamie, babies. It's not just me anymore. I know that Pappy is now somewhere watching, praying that I don't miscalculate my future. Jamie is cooking and struggling and hoping that I don't expect too much. The babies, well, just thinking about a little one makes my heart swell and my throat close up.

There is something beyond money and Fifth Avenue and my original New York City dream. This hits me hard.

Granddaddy and I used to tango on the back porch. It was nothing like the dance I learned in Buenos Aires (or like they practice at "Belle Epoque" on Broadway) but, it made the cousins laugh and Grandmother smile that gorgeous smile of hers. Cheek-to-cheek, arms extended, we stared down the long, sun-filled room out to the lake and then the lake beyond. This is what he liked to do when the sun tucked behind his tall, strong pines--right before the deer came up to feed. "If I go down like this, with a beautiful blonde in my arms, I'll die a happy man." my Pappy told me more than once. His life was rich. Our life together was rich. We were leagues away from Fifth Avenue and the Plaza Hotel...

Friday, January 27, 2006

Buttercream Frosting & Flying Saucers

Dear Mamma,

It's your birthday and I'm writing you this little card (that I'll tuck beneath your butter cream frosted sheet cake) to let you know that everything was worth it--everything that you sacrificed and gave me was for a purpose. I love you for all your encouragement... and for the things that I've never told you...

I love your beautiful, slender fingers, your thick, messy hair. I love the way you would rock me to sleep when I was eight and too tall and too old to still be in your lap, smelling the sweet perfume of your neck. I love that we used to look for flying saucers at the base of the bay bridge, staring up into the cloudless night, praying for an errant light or sound. With the hatch back of your silver van raised high like the wins of a beetle, we'd eat our picnic dinner (chicken salad-stuffed tomatoes, 6 1/2 oz Coca-Colas, mocha brownies--remember?) and talk about spelling tests, my tennis game, Granddaddy. Finally, we'd make it around to life on other planets. "Really, could it be?" I'd ask.

I love all that is you and different than the other mothers. You're an earnest, energetic, kind little soul--Mamma, how did you get to be mine?

I clean the burnt pieces of roast chicken from the oven and think of you. I look out at the bleak branches of Central Park and think of the warm of our home down South, the comfort of our mountain house in the Carolinas. The happiness and simple pleasures of life are YOU, Mamma.

Happy birthday to the lady, mother and best friend that has made me who I am.

All my love,

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Dear Ms. Ruth...

When Mamma was searching the closets of our farmhouse for pictures of Pappy, she found some of my old scribblings. Here is a letter--written at the wee, tender age of 18--to Ruth Reichl, the Editor-in-Chief of "Gourmet" Magazine. I suppose Chef's big, brown eyes and long, muscled arms aren't the only reason I'm into this food thing...

Ms. Ruth Reichl
"Gourmet" Magazine
4 Times Square
New York, NY 10036

Dear Ms. Reichl,
You were weaned on Gerber strained English peas and I was raised on Granddaddy's organically-grown carrots, apples and collard greens...

Monday, January 23, 2006

In The Paper, On The Page...

In the paper, on the page, on T.V.,
Last year's headshot when I wasn't sure what I wanted to be...

(In the end, love--and a little luck--pushed me in the right direction.)


Grandaddy died on Saturday. In his memory...

“Belle’s the only one with any sense in this God damned family!” Granddaddy bellowed to no one in particular. A turtle’s head popped up from the fresh water shallows of the lake, heavy, concentric circles marking its appearance. “Come and sit over here by your Pappy,” he said and motioned to the empty space next to him on the deck swing. I picked up the ridged Folgers coffee canister of fish food and sat down slowly, careful not to spill the brown pellets.

“You’re doin’ real well down at my paper, darlin’. Good thing because there isn’t another God damned thing that you’re qualified to do, no suh…” his voice trailed off and he took a sip of Scotch. He extended the glass in my direction, but I wasn’t thirsty. With me, he was frank: Granddaddy treated me like a man. “I think you should keep on, show these bastards how it’s done. Keep pluggin’ away and in another ten, fifteen years I’ll make you Editor-in-Chief. How’d you like that?”

I didn’t look at him. We faced the lake and drifted upward into the moist, twilight air and—just for a moment—I suspended disbelief and worries and everyday life. Then we came back down, the balls of my feet touching the wooden deck. I wanted to push us back up, I wanted to push for the both of us—

“I want you to spell ‘parallel’ for your Pappy,” he said, a smooth palm now resting on my forearm.

“Granddaddy, I know how to spell and I know that I could keep on writing for you but, I’m moving. I’ve made up my mind.” I looked over and his eyes were fixed on nothing and I pushed us back up because he was too old and too distracted to do the practical things anymore.

“I said, spell the word ‘parallel.”


“You’re goin’ to be the youngest editor that joint has ever seen,” he grinned, genuinely pleased, punching the air with his index finger. “They all misspell ‘parallel’—my reporters, editors, the boys in the back shop—”

“I’m moving to New York City,” I said flatly.

Granddaddy stopped the swing. The oak tree and its curtain of moss above us stopped moving. I felt dizzy.

“Let me tell you a little something about this place you’re so anxious to leave,” he began, pacing his speech and temper. “We are 1,200 miles south of Park Avenue for a reason. I decided to establish my family in this town because your Pappy likes being the boss, likes doing as he pleases.

“I see you at the paper and you’re the same way. I’ve always given you what you wanted, when you wanted it. Maybe your ol’ Granddaddy’s a patsy, I don’t know. But, I can’t keep on. If you go up there and leave me and the paper, things are going to get real hard, darlin.’ Your Pappy won’t be able to help you.”

“Don’t treat me like a girl,” I said.

“Damn it, you can’t just pick up and move away!”

He had a way of presenting the modern-day, American South as if it were 19th century Gallic society—albeit a bastardized version. For Granddaddy, it wasn’t just the pace of life or the rhythm of speech, but the social structure. Money wasn’t so much earned as it was inherited. Down here, wealth wasn’t acquired through brilliant ideas—it was maintained in estates and property. Staying in his good graces would be far more lucrative than chasing a Northern dream.

“Belle, God damnit, what are you going to do?” Pappy said, this time his voice betraying more concern than anger. “I’d try to give you a name or two but they all died on me, all my contacts are dead. That’s what happens when you get to be my age. There’s only one but, no suh… he’s so damned liberal I don’t want you knowin’ who he is,” he said and then drew a long, slow sip from his glass. “I gave him his first job—youngest beat reporter I ever hired—and now he’s up at the Grey Lady, chief of the editorial page. Think he worked his way up from the Village Voice or somethin’ like that, hell, I can’t keep track. All I know is ol’ Chris Randolph went and turned into a bleeding heart, Yankee Democrat on me. Can you imagine, in good conscience, livin’ like that?”

“The sun’s leavin’ us,” I said, knowing better than to press the subject. “Why don’t we feed your fish before it’s too late?”
I put the canister to the side of the swing and stood in front of Granddaddy, giving him my hands and forearms for balance. Our arms twisted together as only the young and old can manage to do and he pulled himself up to a standing position. I looked into those eyes, so full of quiet, blue secrets, and recognized that he was everything: I would never again be quite as whole.

He surveyed the water. “Now, I want you to look out for Nathan. He comes runnin’ when he knows there’s food. Yep, there he is—oldest, fattest bass in my lake. Greedy bastard, isn’t he? You know, I named him after that blood-suckin’ lawyer uncle of mine… Comes around at feedin’ time and then he vanishes.” Pappy scattered the fish food, wrist bent, fingers pointed in: for a moment, he was the King of Mardi Gras tossing chocolate and gold-foiled coins to the crowd.“You love me all the time, don’t you Nathan? Not just when it gets dark and there’s no one else and you need to be tended to…” Pappy said softly. He tossed the ridged, metal canister into the grass and then reached for my hand. Together, we watched the last of the bass swim from the clear shallows into the deep green of the distant lake water.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Moving Day

Before I walked back in to the building I forced myself to look up and out at the new expanse I’d call home. At that moment, I saw it as neighborhood—concentrate. There was a church, butcher shop, bakery, furniture store, several restaurants, hat shop, Laundromat and store dedicated to mozzarella balls and nothing else. I could wake up, buy a cup of coffee, couture fedora, furnish my apartment, get married and die and still not venture beyond my block. A Billy Joel tune fought its way into my head.

Sergeant O’Leary is walking the beat,
At night he becomes a bartender.
He works at Mr. Cacciatore’s down on Sullivan Street
Across from the medical center…

One day, I’d find “Mr. Cacciatore’s” and take Mamma there for dinner. She’d begin to understand why I had moved. We’d have spaghetti and casks of red wine and I would put down a piece of plastic when the bill arrived. “No, Mamma—I insist. This is my city and I’m treating,” I’d say. She’d love that my street was in a song by Christie Brinkley’s ex husband. Christie’s exercise tapes were her favorites.

Looks like I’ve got myself an audience, I mused, noticing a man standing, staring nearby.

The young fellow stood several yards away watching my moving men cart big, inappropriate farmhouse furniture inside my apartment building. Town cars with tinted windows and sports cars with important drivers formed a line down the block as a polished oak bed and kitchen table were transported, assembly-line style, across the street. The sound of car-horns bounded from building to building and shot back to me like a boomerang, the noise returning to its rightful owner. The young guy didn’t say a word. The shopkeeper across the street stood in the window, staring, coffee mug in hand. Several floors above me a window slammed. No one acknowledged me.

What I didn’t understand then, and I wouldn’t for many months, was the paradox of city living. The coexistence of intimacy and anonymity was something I had never experienced before. Homes rested atop businesses while coffee shops and liquor stores flanked either side of a St. Anthony’s or a St. Agnes Church. Life and all its motions were condensed to such a compact area that anonymity was a gift from your neighbors. They had to look the other way—feign ignorance or otherwise—and you would be expected to do the same. Back home everyone knew my business, but only because we frequented the same tea and coffee hour after the 10:30 Episcopal service. We repented our own sins only to turn and promptly discuss the sins of others. When two lakes and a hunting camp separate you from your nearest neighbors, casual run-ins aren’t possible.

Why wasn’t Mamma there to help me? Surely she could tell me what to do and how to think and, for once, I would listen.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

See what the 'News Channel' missed out on...

In the paper, on the page, on T.V.,
Last year's headshot when I wasn't sure what I wanted to be...

(In the end, love--and a little luck--pushed me in the right direction.)

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Eat Your Hearts Out

Some of you have been nasty. Many of you have been nice.

To the naysayers: I wanted a nice meal. I got one. I enjoyed every morsel. As Lynn Harris of Salon.com said, "this 'dinner whore' thing is a tempest in a 'tini. A night out that doesn't necessarily lead to sex? Call me crazy, but I call that dating."

The rest: You're fabulous! I'm glad that you were entertained by me and Ms. Stadtmiller's amusing piece in Thursday's New York Post.

One can not think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not eaten well.
--Virginia Woolf

Thursday, January 12, 2006

"Meet the Dinner Whores"

As if single men and women don't already fear one another enough, today's New York Post drums up more terror in its portrait today of New York City's "dinner whores."

Here's how Urbandictionary defines "dinner whore": "A girl who is exclusively after a free meal or an expensive gift. She actively seeks out dates with well-off men who will wine and dine her at upscale restaurants. She is usually physically attractive enough to make the man fall for her feminine wiles. She will rarely have sex with these men, until they spend a certain number of dollars on her. Nobody knows exactly what that number is, so the man keeps spending and spending, while the dinner whore keeps living it up."

To be sure, some of these food diggers are thoroughly unapologetic. Like Brooke Parkhurst of Belle in the Big Apple, who is quoted extensively in the article and who -- though she is now happily dating a chef -- boasts that her dinner-whoring has scored her over $30K worth of gourmet food and expensive cocktails.

Still, when Parkhurst says, "Women used to feel like something had to be given in exchange, whereas now I'm perfectly confident that my company is enough," I think she's got a point. Same here: "Men are always saying, 'It's just sex. It's just a one-night stand.' Well, this is just dinner," she says.

Using someone solely for his -- or her -- money: ick. But to some degree, this "dinner whore" thing is a tempest in a 'tini. A night out that doesn't necessarily lead to sex? Call me crazy, but I call that dating.

[BY LYNN HARRIS via Salon]

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

NY Post: Gourmet Gal Gets the Guys

Pate de foie gras. Fettucine al tartufo bianco. Kobe beef tartare.

Exquisite food. I love it. I just can’t afford it. What’s a girl to do?

A) Date a Chef (more on that later)

B) Study the culinary guidebooks of Alain Ducasse, Pierre Troisgos, then scrape together enough money to buy miniscule portions of the exorbitantly priced ingredients. Finally, attempt to recreate their gustatory masterpieces… in my mouse-friendly studio apartment.

C) Smile, angle my gaze, slip on high heels, twist my long, blonde hair into an elegant chignon…and make the nearest investment banker buy that dinner for me.

The Dinner Whore

I'm a woman that will stop at nothing--except for the bedroom--for a fine meal. Am I a tease, a tyrant, a gourmet slut? Nah. My charm, wit and attentive laugh are more than fair pay for the Osetra caviar and Dom Perignon. As I am quoted in today's New York Post, "Women used to feel like they had to give something in exchange, whereas now I'm perfectly confident that my company is enough." Moreover, "Men are always saying, 'This is just sex.' Well, this is just dinner--I don't feel sorry for them."

That's right--I'll be your date, your sugar and spice and everything nice just as long as you pick up the tab. Well, that is, until you corner me in the taxi, trap me outside the apartment door. Then the sweet turns sour and slowly to steel... In you gentlemen's hormonal rage, please do not
forget--I'm a Southern belle with a backbone.

I'm also currently--desperately, madly-- in love. Chef/Southern Boy (as he's known to my loyal readers) sears a mean foie gras. He's my new modus operandus for eating well. As I said to the Post, "It's kind of ironic, a reformed dinner whore dating a chef."

If y'all live in the New York area, go out and buy a New York Post. The aforementioned article is featured today in the Entertainment Section!

Romancing the Stove

A chef. A writer. A love.
We met in a restaurant. We fell in love at the table. We've begun our lives together at the stove. But, still, how do an Alabama chef and a New York City writer cook for themselves? Entertain at home?
Last week, Chef (also known as "Southern Boy") and I rented a house on the Gulf. It was our start to our new year. We woke up to salty breezes and emerald green sea, fell asleep to silence and warmth... and the smell of sauteed garlic and onions. We couldn't help ourselves, you see. With all that time together we decided to put pen to paper, test out recipes and devise a little cooking/entertaining guide for our friends and family. Shopping, buying the freshest seafood by day, cooking and testing recipes by night. I might just share the recipes with y'all...

Wednesday, January 4, 2006


Vacationing by the Gulf, my lovelies... will write soonest...