Yesterday was a great day, bookended by two very different food experiences. First I went with a group from my temple to Rosie’s Place, the oldest women’s shelter in the country. Rosie’s serves lunch and dinner on weekends and breakfast, lunch, and dinner on weekdays, and all meals are high in fiber and low in sodium and fat. At any given meal there might be 50 or as many as 150 homeless and low-income women being served. Rosie’s also has 21 beds, but anyone can just walk in for a meal. Anyone who isn’t drunk or high, that is, since Rosie’s is a dry shelter. Rosie’s receives no government funding whatsoever and instead is supported solely by personal donations. They also provides other services to these women, including wellness services, educational assistance, and legal advice. It’s an amazing place.
Our group of 15 arrived at about 10:00, donned aprons, and got to work preparing lunch. Ben and Cara run the dining program like a well-oiled machine, even with a bunch of people who don’t know what they’re doing. In no time at all we had made a giant vat of tomato soup with lots of veggies and rice, served with baguettes and butter. Then we made a gorgeous salad of lettuce, cucumbers, green and red peppers, tomatoes, feta cheese, pine nuts, dried cranberries, and chickpeas, all tossed with a lovely vinaigrette. Served alongside was balsamic chicken breasts, and an apple for dessert. We all worked nonstop, and hard, from washing dishes to chopping veggies to cleaning out the coffee makers. It was a thoroughly rewarding experience, and the women were all very appreciative. I am looking forward to going back!
Having done the feeding, later on it was my turn to be fed. As you know, I’ve been working with Michael Ruhlman for almost two years now, since that fateful day when he contacted me about copyediting his cookbook on schmaltz, which was originally going to be just a self-published iPad app but later got picked up by Little, Brown and is now a gorgeous book. Since then I have edited two more of his books (Egg is coming out very soon, and I’m just now finishing up How to Roast), plus a bunch of other smaller things, from his autobiographical Kindle single to recipes to accompany his Le Creuset video series to his near-daily blog posts. But … although we email and text all the time, we had never actually met! Until last night.
Michael was flying in from Cleveland to appear at an event here in Boston called Beyond Bubbie’s Kitchen, at which lots of local chefs (Tony Maws, Michael Leviton, Jim Solomon, etc.) prepare traditional Jewish food in innovative ways. Michael was there to talk schmaltz, one of his favorite topics. So he put me and Andy on his guest list, and we went!
Andy spotted him as soon as we walked in. My first impression? Michael Ruhlman is tall. Like, really tall. I guess from all those cooking videos where he’s shot from the waist up, it had never occurred to me how tall he is. I’m really short, so everyone around me looks tall, but he’s really tall. So we chatted for a while and milled around, sampling things like duck confit latkes, schmaltz buns with lamb belly and prune compote, veggie kishke, guava knishes, and more. (Just like Grandma used to make!) Then Michael was interviewed by someone from the Globe about his love of schmaltz (and fat in general) and spoke on his favorite topics of how important it is to cook your own food, use real ingredients (fat is not bad, chemicals are bad), and use your common sense. Then he signed books and had another interview. And then we were sprung. Andy left to go home and feed the kids, and Michael and I headed off to a bar (which shall remain nameless for reasons that will become obvious momentarily but which is in a very well-known restaurant in a very well-known hotel).
It’s so interesting and fun to “meet” someone when you sort of already “know” that person! I mean, in many respects we’ve worked very closely together, but of course not side by side. It’s very rare that I get to meet the authors I work with, and I’ve probably worked with Michael more than with any other author, so this was a great occasion.
But, back to the drinks. Michael orders a Maker’s Mark on the rocks, and I do my usual foofing-around because I’m picky about my vodka (Michael says, “Can you really tell the difference?” “Yes!”). I end up with Ketel One over ice with a big hunk of lime. Not bad at all. Some time later, a different bartender comes on shift, and this time Michael asks for a Maker’s Mark Old Fashioned. Now, those of you who read his blog know that nearly every Friday he does a post called “The Friday Cocktail Hour” to help us all kick off our weekends. Sometimes it’s a classic cocktail, like The Manhattan, and sometimes it’s a completely new drink he invented, like The Robertson. This is all by way of saying that although you may think of him as mostly an expert on food and cooking, he also knows his booze.
The drink arrives—brought by yet a third bartender—and Michael just stares at it.
“Is this an Old Fashioned?”
“It looks like it has soda water in it.”
“An Old Fashioned never has soda in it.”
“Yes, it does.”
By this time, I’m dying. The look on Michael’s face is one of complete incredulity (this is not his first time ordering an Old Fashioned, not by a long shot), the journeyman bartender is being obstinate, and I’m this close to bursting out laughing. Michael tastes it and says, “It tastes like an Old Fashioned. With soda water.” The bartender agrees to remake the drink, but maintains that an Old Fashioned always has soda water.
As soon as the bartender leaves, I whisper, “We have to look it up!” Michael says, “It’s right there on my blog!” I remind him that he can’t corroborate his opinion with his own blog, so he says to go to Wikipedia. Sure enough, there’s the recipe for an Old Fashioned, without a trace of soda water to be seen. I tell Michael that I’m dying to show it to the bartender, and he says he figured as much. (Yes, apparently, I would be happy to edit bartenders, too.) After a few minutes, and me petulantly sucking the ice from my second Ketel One, he laughs and says, “You really want to say something, don’t you?” But I manage to hold it in and not make a scene.
And that was it; Michael had an early morning flight to look forward to, and I had to get home and ready for my own week, so we said goodnight and I hopped in a cab.
It was a great day to be me, wouldn’t you say?