Posts tagged “new york times magazine

Mastering the Art of French Eating

Posted on October 25, 2013

Photo: Amazon.com

Photo: Amazon.com

I just finished Ann Mah‘s recently published memoir Mastering the Art of French EatingIt’s a lovely account of the year that Mah, a food writer and diplomat’s wife, spent alone in Paris as her husband was called away to serve in Iraq for a year. Some may not view a year alone in the City of Light as some sort of punishment. There are pastel-hued sunsets, the city’s storied rooftops and Pierre Herme macarons, after all. But for all its beauty and luxury, for all its decadent pleasures in every patisserie and multi-starred restaurant, the French capital can be a lonely and confounding place, especially if you’re not from around there.

Like me, Mah is a Francophile and foodie, so when I read her book, I was immediately transported into a country and subjects that I love. In the year she spent apart from her husband, she sought ways to create a new life and friends for herself. One of the ways she did it was by traveling the country in search of the history, techniques and people behind some of France’s signature dishes, from boeuf bourguignon to delicate buckwheat crepes smeared with creamy Breton butter.

“I was intoxicated and my drug was Paris,” she writes. Quite frankly, I was intoxicated and my drug was Mah’s memoir, which made me crave steak frites, red wine and a cozy cafe from page one. If you love engaging memoirs, smart food writing and a dash of history, Mah’s book is just the recipe for your interests. I gave it five stars on Goodreads this week.

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Speaking of steak frites…sometimes I dream about this dish, from the well-seared piece of meat that runs red when your knife slices into it, to the slightly tangy (and sort of buttery) shallot sauce that is served with it, to the crisp frites that soak up some of the juices on the plate. Let’s not forget the big glass (or glasses) of red wine to wash it down. You have to do this right, after all.

Last Sunday, the New York Times Magazine ran a story about steak frites at Balthazar. The next day, I picked up Ann Mah’s book and went from thinking about steak frites to craving them. This meant I had to make them. So I did that last night, using Mah’s recipe for the steak and shallot sauce and my recipe for fresh, handcut frites. My wine choice: Chateau Coutet Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Malbec. It worked for me.

I’m not sure why this is, but one of the secrets to making really good frites is soaking the Idaho potatoes you’ve cut in cold water. It has something to do with getting rid of some of the starches, but I’m not sure what that has to do with flavor or texture. All the same, I do it, and last night I was in such a manic must-have-frites state that I did it three times. When I was done, I put those babies in hot oil until they were golden brown:


Next, I took a skirt steak, patted it dry and then seasoned it with sea salt and freshly-ground pepper. I seared it for a couple of minutes on one side, then flipped it over to cook it for a few more minutes on the opposite side (the Mah recipe calls for about 50 seconds, but my husband doesn’t like his steak as red as I, or the French, do):

When the steak was done, I covered it in foil and then cooked some sliced shallots in the pan drippings with butter until they were tender. I added thyme, red wine vinegar and some beef stock and cooked it down until there was barely any liquid. Then I added more butter to the sauce. Here is the end result:

One of my Instagram followers said that I was “really killing it in the kitchen” last night. But honestly? I love cooking and do it frequently, even though I may not always post about it. This week I’m just feeling lonesome for Paris and wanted a way to connect myself with a food and a people that I adore. This got me there, if only for a moment. Judging from Ann Mah’s memoir, she probably understands the sentiment all too well.

Tippi Hedren

Posted on October 12, 2012

Photo: movieline.com

Photo: movieline.com

I interviewed the actress Tippi Hedren more than a decade ago in Palm Beach, Fla. At the time, I was working as an in-house freelance writer at Palm Beach Illustrated. My boss knew I loved Alfred Hitchcock’s films, so he assigned me to interview and write about Ms. Hedren, who was in town for the Palm Beach International Film Festival. She was there to promote her film “Mulligans,” in which she played a golf widow named Dottie. But we were eager to profile her as a living Hitchcock muse and star of “The Birds.”

I was 24 years old. And so this was an era in my professional life when I found it difficult to detach from the sheer awesomeness of interviewing a real live icon. I didn’t sleep the night before the interview. I couldn’t eat.  I couldn’t focus on the other stories I had to write. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the stormy weather on interview day was some terrible omen. Would Tippi Hedren cancel?

I drove to the apartment where the interview was supposed to take place and the rain stopped. The clouds parted. The sun peeked through gray sky. Seagulls circled the rooftop of the building I was about to enter.

Yeah. Birds. Lots of them.

The lights were out in the apartment building and the elevator was too. The man at the front desk gave me a flashlight so that I could navigate the stairwell to my destination. Everything was feeling a little Hitchcock, until I knocked on the door of the apartment I sought and was welcomed in to wait. Five, maybe ten minutes went by and then the front door opened, the electricity went back on and Tippi Hedren walked in and said hello.

She was generous with her time that day, an utter delight to interview. But what I remember most is her account of Hitchcock’s obsession with her and how that destroyed her career. Part of me has always wondered what her life would be like if she had worked with another director early on, but I know that “The Birds” and “Marnie” wouldn’t have been the same films without her.  She faced what no woman should have to in the workplace and stayed true to herself and her morals. That took bravery, especially in the early 1960s. A week from now HBO will debut “The Girl,” a movie that depicts this era in Hedren’s life. Hedren has helped promote the project and has worked with its screenwriters and the actress Sienna Miller, who plays her in the movie. Hedren said that she “just froze” when she heard Toby Jones first speak as Hitchcock.

Clearly, this is still painful for Hedren.

Earlier this week, Andrew Goldman of The New York Times Magazine ignited a firestorm when he asked Hedren if she ever considered sleeping with a director to further her career. She said no, and Goldman was taken to task on Twitter by some prominent female writers who felt he was being inappropriate. Here is how the NYT public editor responded to the imbroglio.