Fifteen years ago, I spent time doing “production monkey” work at Sur La Table, a Seattle-based kitchenware company. I worked mostly on the catalogs. I got that job, like almost all of my other jobs on the strengths of my personality, willingness to do whatever is asked of me, and nepotism, as opposed to actual skill.
I am not suggesting, I was poor at graphic production. I learned my picas, points, rules, and alignment and did what I was asked. It wasn’t a great experience at the time as the company was going through massive changes from private ownership to a share-holder concern with corporate growth, and I’m not going to lie here, we had terrible managers and snooty art directors to contend with, as well as a very rocky transition to the web, but looking back on it, I left work at 5 pm and did not think about it again until the next morning, which now looks pretty good.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when I got the Greens Cookbook, but it would have been sometime immediately before my stint at Sur La Table. I was living with an older English fellow at the time, and together we learned that success at that book requires exactly following the recipe. This is not my strongest characteristics. While I still use that book frequently, and probably the most famous and regularly requested dish I make, sorrel pie, is in it, it’s definitely not a book I turn to for everyday problems or inspiration. That would be Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Deborah Madison’s fourth book that came out while I was working at Sur La Table.
When foodies play the “Desert Island” game of what cookbooks are essential to you as a cook and a problem solver (that problem being getting food into your face), this book is the first one on my list. Believe you, I eat meat. Lots of meat. Big, bloody, delicious meat. But in my world, meat is pretty easy: you just grill it and feel when it is ready. It’s everything else that’s interesting to me and thus, why Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone is the most used cookbook I have. Not only does it have the veg you’d expect, but savory waffles, sweet deserts, ideas for wine, pasta, and pizza, and a few things delicious to do with figs.
Let’s just be frank that only Jerry Traunfield circa 1997, could top my celebrity crush on Deborah Madison. Rose Levey Beirbam? Nancy Singleton Hachisu? Nigella Lawson? WHATEVs. (Sam Talbot, please call me.)
So when my good friend, Emily called me, dangling lunch with Deborah, I was all in. Then I realized it was a ticketed event. Well, O.K.!
As one would expect: lunch was delightful. Awkward conversations turned interesting after the second glass of rosé, and as it turned out, Deborah sat at our table and so we had good conversations about the difficulty of writing a cookbook and Labradoodles (Emily and Deborah both have one). Perhaps it was the easy conversation, but more than likely it was the fourth or fifth glass of rosé, but when it finally came time to part, I turned to Emily and said, “I so want a selfie with Deborah Madison.”
As part of this lunch, we received a new edition of “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone”. Fewer stir fries, more interesting ingredients, more cakes! I didn’t think a thing of the signing (she had my name on a post-it within a big pile of books with post-its and signings are awkward), said my goodbyes to my companions, and came home.
Later that evening, I was flipping through the book, looking for changes. I finally turned to the front to see if there was a new preface. That’s when I noticed how she had signed my book.
In addition to being the only man at this luncheon, I probably had the best toes. As I was standing near the book signing table they shuffled Ms. Madison over too after lunch, one of the other ladies exclaimed, “You have fabulous toes!”. I turned a shade closer to my pink nails and then explained my recent outing for a mani/pedi.
My mother-in-law, who has Alzheimer’s won’t let the pedicurist at her home touch her. It took a funny date with a girlfriend to the neighborhood day spa, to make me think I could just take her. So that is what I did: my mother-in-law and I had an ultimate girlfriend day where I showed her what they’d do next, made sure she had fun, fawned over her when she seemed unsure, and helped her pick up some new lipstick for a date with her husband she’d forget five minutes later. We left there and went for chocolates. When got back to her residence, she showed off her nails, though unsure how they happened or where we’d been. That was the day. And there’s the color on my toes.
Well, there’s a short version of that I stutter though. And Deborah Madison? I am just as crushed out as ever.