Discover more from La Briffe
My New Book....
Another lost recipe from an older book. A vintage menu. And an essential condiment.
I am very excited about the cover of my new novel, which comes out next spring. I don’t usually love jacket designs, but this one makes me really happy.
The truth is almost everything about this book makes me happy. Writing it was pure pleasure.
Just seeing that sentence in print seems very strange. Because I usually hate writing, and will find windows to wash, laundry to fold, ovens to clean - anything to avoid staring at a blank screen.
“So why keep writing?” you might ask. The answer is simple: I love having written. There is no better feeling than getting up from the desk a thousand words richer. That feeling is the drug that keeps me hooked.
But this time was different: “I’m off to Paris,” I told my family every morning, as I opened my computer, eager to find out what my characters had been up to while I slept.
It wasn’t just Paris, but Paris past. 1983 to be exact. A Paris filled with food and art and fashion. A Paris filled with writers. A Paris where a young American could live on very little as she discovered herself.
If you want to find out more about The Paris Novel, you can do it here.
I wrote The Paris Novel for my late editor, Susan Kamil. When I finished Save Me the Plums she said, “I love that Paris chapter. I want more. Could you please turn it into a novel?” I had just begun to write when Susan fell ill.
“What can I do for you?” I asked. She had an instant answer: “The best gift would be to write me that book.”
It makes me very sad that she will never get to read it.
As a tribute to Susan, I offer up one of the recipes she made me take out of my last book. (Susan thought recipes interrupted the flow.) This is from the chapter called Garlic.
With great relief I saw the waiter approaching our table. He was bearing a large antipasto platter, but as he set it down Si eyed the dish suspiciously. His nose twitched. “Is there garlic in there?” he demanded.
“Yes, sir!” The waiter said it with pride.
“I can’t eat garlic.” Si waved an imperious hand. “Take it away.”
The waiter looked agitated. “Sir”—he drew himself up—“does that mean the kitchen must avoid garlic in everything?”
Si gazed serenely up at him. “I told you,” he said sweetly, “I cannot eat garlic.”
The waiter remained rooted, not quite knowing what to do. I studied Si. When he’d suggested Da Silvano I’d been charmed; I’d recently reviewed the restaurant, saying how much I liked it, and it had seemed like an extremely gracious gesture. But now it struck me that an Italian restaurant was a strange choice for a man who shunned garlic. How would the chef manage? Would he even try? Si waved at the plate again and the waiter reluctantly picked up the rejected offering. I watched him hesitate outside the kitchen door, shoulders hunched in despair. He was, I knew, steeling himself for the chef’s wrath.
In 1998, unlike today, restaurants did not routinely ask if you had allergies they should know about, and most were oblivious to such requests. Now I turned to Si and asked, “Don’t you worry that the kitchen will try to sneak some garlic into your food?”
Si regarded me as if I’d said something stupid. “No,” he said at last.
Si went on to tell me that he had decreed that garlic would never be used in the Conde Nast cafeteria. As I told my family about that extremely strange meal I had the sudden urge to cook something that would fill the house with the wonderful scent of garlic.
We ate well that night.
Thai Pork, Beans and Basil
Salty, sweet and loaded with garlic, this dish would have made Si shudder. It’s a classic Thai dish (pad kra pow), and everyone in my family loves it.
3 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
4 large cloves garlic, smashed or minced
1 tablespoon minced Thai chile (or jalapeño), more if you like heat
1/2 - 3/4 pound green beans
2 tablespoons, vegetable oil
1 pound ground pork
1 cup densely packed basil leaves (you can’t have too much basil in this dish)
In a small bowl combine oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce and sugar. Stir to combine and set aside.
In another small dish combine garlic and chiles and set aside.
Cut the green beans into small pieces. (In Thailand they are usually about half an inch long, but I like them smaller. )
Heat a wok or skillet over a medium flame, slick it with oil and wait until it shimmers. Add the pork and stir fry until it has lost its color and separated into small bits.
Add the garlic and chiles and toss about until fragrant, then add the green beans and the oyster sauce mixture. Cook stirring constantly, until the green beans are glossy and tender, 2 or 3 minutes.
Turn off the heat, add the basil and toss well.
Serve with lots of rice; in Thailand this is usually topped with a crisply-fried egg but it’s delicious on its own.
La Briffe is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Since we’re talking about books.… When I was on book tour for my first memoir, Tender at the Bone, Alice Waters hosted a dinner at Chez Panisse. The framed menu now hangs on my wall.
I use a lot of crushed red peppers in my cooking. Given that, I want them to be really good. Which is why I am never without the peperoncino that Neal Rosenthal imports from Italy.
Rosenthal is a wine importer, and he’s been importing these peppers and a few other fine products (olive oil, balsamic vinegar), for years. But lately he’s been expanding his Mad Rose line of foods. His taste is impeccable: everything I’ve tried has been wonderful.