Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Angie's Thumbprint Cookies


Remember Angie? My friend who is stumping to be President of my fan club? (This is all completely unofficial and I am the only judge and voter, by the way). She has been busy! This is the first blog post of fan's pics - so send them to me!

Angie made Thumbprint Cookies and I have to say, she definitely put her own spin on them. She filled some with Strawberry jam and some with Raspberry but then she also filled some with Peach Butter and the green is Jalapeno jelly! With a sparkle of green sugar. I love the twist. What did you fill yours with?

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Soft and Silky Whipped Cream

We are all in a baking frenzy this week; it's part of the fun! Mixers whirring, knives chopping, room being made in the refrigerator and freezer. And trips to the Dollar Store for cheap but pretty airtight tins for all of our cookies. (One of my favorite dollar store items).

Many desserts are enhanced by a dollop (or more) of whipped cream. A silky mound on top of chocolate mousse, wedges of flourless chocolate cake or on slices if lemon tart. Sometimes it can be the star on top of a chilled pie, swirled with a spoon. What all of these should have in common is properly whipped cream.

Whether it is the crowning finale or you are folding it into a dessert, the texture of your whipped cream is of prime importance. Take a look at this picture:


The cream on the left is soft and silky. Perfect. The cream on the right was over-whipped. See how it is "curdy" almost looking like cottage cheese? Not good. The inherent silkiness of perfectly whipped cream is lost - what a shame! If we are spending the calories, let's make them delectable in every way.

I do usually reach for my electric mixer when I am whipping a lot of cream. If it is 1-cup or less I do it by hand. When using a mixer I usually stop short of it being "done" and finish it off by hand with a balloon whisk. It allows me much more control. You want the peaks to just softly fall over on the rest.

When you are shopping, look for Heavy Cream (it has the highest butterfat), as opposed to Whipping Cream, and if you can find it buy pasteurized and not Ultra-pasteurized. The Ultra is not only harder to whip, but it has been exposed to super high heat and sometimes you can detect a slightly cooked dairy flavor.

IF you over whip the cream you can add some liquid heavy cream, stir it in and possibly achieve the proper texture. Of course if you needed a certain amount for folding into a recipe, that amount is now skewed a bit, but it is a nice cheat to know about. Best bet is to stop whipping early to check.

In terms of sweetening, you have many choices, but I will simply address plain sugar (as opposed to maple syrup or honey or something of that ilk). Granulated sugar will give you pure sweetening. Superfine sugar will dissolve extra-fast. Confectioner's sugar has a bit of cornstarch added to it to prevent clumping and it can sometimes taste faintly starchy in whipped cream, but the benefit is that it helps stabilize the whipped cream. If I am whipping last minute or folding into a recipe, I use superfine or granulated. If the cream-topped pie has to travel to Grandma's house, I will use the confectioner's. The choice is yours.

Enjoy your cream filled holidays and Happy whipping!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cranberry White Chocolate Chunk Cookies


I found a bag of Craisins in the pantry! Time to make Cranberry White Chocolate Chunk Cookies. This is the week when there can Never be enough cookies. The dough freezes well too. Make a batch, bake some up this week, freeze the rest and bake those up after January 1st to help start the New Year off right.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Working from the Pantry

In an effort to be frugal and use what is at hand, I have been digging in my closet searching for ingredients that have been pushed aside. Ok I know my pantry is a little fancier than most but still, the sentiment is there. I found a can of chestnut purée and make a chocolate chestnut cake yesterday that I put in the freezer for next week. There were also some dried cherries and some almond paste in the frig. With those I made a pound cake. I soaked the cherries in Amaretto and added the almond paste to the batter....all these recipes will be forthcoming.

I can't be the only one with "fancy" stuff lying about. What's in your pantry that you should be using? I really want to know.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Angie....Everyone Needs a Friend Like Angie


I think my friend Angie is angling to be president of my fan club. She is a one woman support system. She has been Facebooking about my Baker's Field Guide to Christmas Cookies and the new site all week. She just posted that tonight her baking frenzy begins. Looking by her pic she is all ready to go!

There is One Cookbook that says "Christmas" to Me

Full disclosure....I own about 2000 cookbooks. I say "about" because I lost count years ago. They are in book cases, stacked properly as well as horizontally. Basically I have to use every available space to squeeze them in. And I keep collecting; iIt is a compulsion. Scratch that. For me they are well thought out research tools...right?

Some never really get used, while others get used a lot and then there are those that signify certain times of my life. Such is the case with Mimi Sheraton's Visions of Sugarplums.


My Mom had this book and while it has no color photos, I was drawn into it as a child. Even just the titles had me dreaming of things I could bring to life in the kitchen: Victorian Coconut Gingersnaps; Swedish Saffron Buns; Chocolate Chestnut Fritters; Boule de Neige; Colonial Virginia Frozen Plum Pudding; Dublin Fruit Cake....and ones with funny names that still appeal as an adult: Bellylaps; Belsnickles; Fire Tong Bowl and dozens more.

There are chapters on yeast breads, cakes, pies, tarts, fritters, crullers, candies and drinks from all over the world - including a gingerbread house.

It is a fabulous book for those who think they have every baking book they need....they need this too. A great gift.

Monday, December 12, 2011

My Desserts Named "Best Holiday Desserts" by Bon Appetit

Above: Frozen Chocolate-Peppermint Bûche de Noël - image by Patricia Heal


Bon Appetit has announced their "Best Holiday Desserts" and of the 31 chosen, 4 are mine! I am honored to be in such a smashing assembly of show-stopping desserts. Check them out. I hope one (or more!) will grace your table this year. Email me any questions you might have - and I would love to see your pics! The White Chocolate Tiramisu Trifle with Spiced Pears is on my site. You can find the other recipes at bonappetit.com.


Above: White Chocolate Tiramisu Trifle with Spiced Pears - image by Con Poulos



Above: White Chocolate Espresso Torte with Hazelnut Praline - image by Patricia Heal



Above: Chocolate Almond and Raspberry Tart - image by Patricia Heal

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Homemade Cranberry Liqueur

Recipes for this are all over the internet but I have a tried-and-true recipe that I first published in my Christmas Cooking for Dummies several years ago and I make it every year. It's a great host/hostess gift and this year I found this gorgeous, heavy glass bottle at Marshall's for $6! With some cranberries, sugar, vodka and some time, this will be ready for New Year's celebrations and beyond, keeping you warm all winter long. Check out my recipe for this easy Cranberry Liqueur.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Brand New DedeWilson.com Coming Soon!

OK folks this has been a LOOOOOONG time in coming. I've owned my dedewilson.com URL for a very long time and never really did anything with it. Life got in the way. You know, raising twins, hosting television shows, baking for a living, writing books and then the next thing I knew, I realized YEARS had gone by and frankly, the lack of action on my site, the design, the whole shebang was admittedly pathetic.

And then I sat on my ass some more. And waited for something magical to happen. I don't know what I was waiting for. Maybe the internet would disappear, or maybe the website of my dreams would just come to me on a silver platter. None of that happened.

What did happen was that about a year ago I started to pull my head out of the sand. Big changes were happening at Bon Appetit; big changes were happening with friends and co-horts in terms of work (or rather lack thereof). I really did have a lightbulb moment where I realized that with all my expertise and all my contacts that I still had a lot to say and the best way to get it out to you was through a website.

The lightbulb was probably starting to glimmer a few years ago when I was working on my Unforgettable Desserts manuscript. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that we cut almost half the text and about 40 recipes during the editing process. Things like this happen. The publisher has a budget and a design vision and the author's words get cut away - simple as that.

Simple for them, painful for me. I had written things I wanted to share. Tips and techniques that I thought were important to the home baker and they were not going to see the light of day...at least through that book.

My smart agent Maureen Lasher said "Dede, don't worry. You will find a use for those recipes; they will not go to waste". I did believe her, but still didn't quite see the light.

Now the light is blaring in my face and has been for months. My BIG website is almost ready. I've been driving my web team crazy because I want to launch it with a BANG. I want all the bells and whistles in place. I want you to be as excited about it as I am, and I think you will be when you see it. There are about 155 pages to the site so far, so when it does launch, you will be able to have fun poking around, reading, learning, and hopefully inspired to get in the kitchen.

I have also built a small kitchen studio and will be bringing you original video as often as possible...just today we taped How to Make Italian Meringue Buttercream, a segment on Dark Caramel Sauce and a short on properly whipped cream.

Hang in there folks...I want to get it up and running more than anybody, but I wanted to give you a "tease". Here is a sneak-peak at part of the Home page. The image the partial wedding cake is but one photo in a slide-show of pics that will be on that part of the site.



Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Yonanas!

Have you heard about Yonanas, the banana frozen treat maker? I first saw this machine when I was down at HSN. They have large studios and our Bon Appetit kitchen was close to the Yonanas set. There was a long row of the machines lined up on the counter and a different flavored frozen treat was coming out of each one....bananas and peanut butter, bananas and chocolate, bananas and berries and on and on. My mouth was watering. Watching the machine in action made it all the more intriguing. Very ripe frozen bananas were pressed into the top chute on the electric machine along with other choice ingredients. The very sharp blades within the machine spin around and process the ingredients into a creamy frozen dessert much like ice cream. You can see two lines of the sharp metal blades in the pic below. There are several lines of blades on an inner piece of the machine that spins. The ingredients go down the chute, hit the blades and a creamy dessert comes out right into your waiting bowl.

I went over to sample the sweets when the segment was done, but everyone on the set, from the camera operators to the food stylists had descended upon the table and I was out of luck. The desserts were gone!

Lucky for me, the Yonanas folks saw my disappointment and promised to send me a machine. I love bananas and eat them everyday and always go for the very ripe ones as a matter of course. With Yonanas you want to make sure to have bananas with black spots and absolutely no green whatsoever. I started hoarding ripe bananas just like the ones on the bottom of the photo so I would be ready when my machine arrived. (Peel them first, then simply freeze in a zippered top bag).
The day it arrived I was ready to go. I tend to jump ahead and like to see if machines are intuitive. This one is! In case you need help, the booklet is very easy to follow. I assembled the machine (which was really just putting a couple pieces together) and plugged it in. Being a chocolate fiend I decided to try a Banana Chocolate blend first. The recipe booklet gave me the proportions and I was good to go. I decided to go with a 55% Valrhona Equitoriale chocolate. Here is my creation....let me tell you, taking the picture before it melted meant I couldn't eat it right away, which was torture! Once I did get to dig in I experienced a creamy banana base with little crunchy bits of chocolate. Fabulous. But the chocolate does have a bit of sugar and fat and I wanted to see if I could make a Yonanas dessert that was 100% fruit.

I always have frozen berries on hand and I happened to have a bag of mixed berries including blueberries, strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. I disassembled the machine and gave it a quick wash, which was pleasantly easy to do. In went the bananas, then the berries and voila! Although it almost pains me to say it (I feel like I'm cheating on chocolate), I think I liked this one even better.
So now that I owned the machine, I began musing on how it could fit into my life. Ice cream is my favorite dessert and really the only reason I don't eat it all the time is because of the calories. Here was a way for me to have a creamy frozen dessert without the fat or any added sugar. There are recipes for "no-banana" Yonanas but the naturally dense texture of bananas help the mouth-feel of your frozen desserts really match that of real ice cream. (One very successful "no-banana" recipe was for Mango Sorbet).

I put the machine away, kind of sad that I didn't have it when my kids were still home as I know they would love it. It lay dormant for a few weeks and then it hit me, hey, I can make a lower calorie frozen treat - easily. Out of sight had been out of mind....I brought it out and the next day went to the local Asian market where I can always find ripe bananas and got them into the freezer pronto. I needed to wait overnight for them to freeze solid. The machine was taunting me. I would glance at it and in a very Pavlovian response, my mouth would begin to water. I felt very impatient.

So now I use it in fits and spurts. When I leave it out on the counter I definitely use it more frequently. Heading into the winter months, I am not sure how often I will take it for a spin...but hey, I just thought of something...banana and maple would be great together....on top of a waffle...maybe for Christmas morning?






Make the Pink Cookies NOW!

The link for the Candy-Striped Peppermint Meringues is up at Bon Appetit. Pick up the December 2011 Bon Appetit issue so you can make these and other scrumptious cookies from the article by Gina Marie Miraglia Eriquez.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Bake the Cover!


Check out the December 2011 Bon Appetit cover.....Candy-Striped Peppermint Meringues. Whimsical, easy, fat-free - and pink! I couldn't resist and I headed to the kitchen to "bake the cover". Here is my photographic rendition. I will link the recipe as soon as it's up on the magazine website.

BBBBB

A Baker's Field Guide Series Now in Paperback




I am thrilled to present my entire Baker's Field Guide series in a lower-priced paperback, just in time for the holidays. At $14.95 each they are more accessible than ever with all the same content inside. Perfect for gift giving or for stocking up for year-round gifts. And it is on sale now for an even lower price! Check out A Baker's Field Guide to Christmas Cookies - we are coming up on Xmas cookie season and the book offers you recipes from around the world.

Now, two teases for you....I know I have been mumbling about a new Dedewilson.com, but I promise you, we are within reach of a launch. Check back here over the week for a notice. I want it to be in really good shape for you when I let it go live. So far there are over 155 pages of fabulous content for you to peruse. You are going to love it! Recipes, Videos, Tips & Tricks, What's Hot...all kinds of helpful links.

Tease #2.....there is another Baker's Field Guide in the works. You will have to wait a bit for that one, but look for that announcement soon, too. Hint: think round, stuffed, topped, glazed, sprinkled and sugar-rolled.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

When Apple Pie is More Than Apple Pie


My good friend Martha Teichner and I are connected in two very important ways - dogs and food. (I am sure you recognize her from CBS News Sunday Morning). If you know one or both of us, you know that both of these topics are hugely important in our lives. And on most days, we take for granted that we have our dogs to hug and a good, hot meal on the table. Every once in a while something BIG happens in our lives. Sometimes it's good; sometimes it's catastrophic, yet even those trying times can bring silver linings to light...what follows is a speech that Martha presented at the Les Dames d'Escoffier International convention just a few weeks ago. It is a story about crisis and putting devastating news into perspective - and in the end, there is a fabulous apple pie rising from the ashes (seen below with a tasty hunk removed)....and of course the dogs are mentioned, too. With Thanksgiving approaching, may we all be thankful for what we do have...and bake a pie! You will feel better.

Below is the speech as presented, in Martha's own CAPS...all the easier to read my dears.

ON JANUARY 15, 2009, AN HOUR BEFORE CAPTAIN SULLY SULLENBERGER LANDED US AIRWAYS FLIGHT 1549 ON THE HUDSON RIVER, MY KITCHEN BURNED DOWN.

I WAS ON A TRAIN TO BOSTON AT THE TIME AND KNEW NOTHING OF EITHER EVENT UNTIL I EMERGED FROM THE QUIET CAR AT SOUTH STATION, TURNED ON MY BLACKBERRY AND CELL PHONE, AND CHECKED MY MESSAGES. THE FIRST ONE, FROM THE PRESIDENT OF THE CO-OP WHERE I LIVE IN MANHATTAN, MADE MY HEART POUND. SUDDENLY, I WAS SHORT OF BREATH, HOT ALL OVER, DIZZY.

“THERE’S BEEN A FIRE. THERE’S BEEN A FIRE IN YOUR APARTMENT. AS SOON AS YOU GET THIS MESSAGE, CALL ME. IT’S AN EMERGENCY.” HER VOICE SOUNDED HIGH-PITCHED, PANICKY. THERE WAS A PAUSE, THEN “THE DOGS ARE ALL RIGHT…CALL ME.” WHEN I FINALLY REACHED HER, I COULD HEAR LOUD VOICES IN THE BACKGROUND AND A TREMENDOUS ROARING NOISE AS SHE SHOUTED INTO THE PHONE.

“YOUR KITCHEN IS COMPLETELY DESTROYED. THE FIREMEN RESCUED THE DOGS. THERE’S WATER ALL OVER. THE SPRINKLERS WORKED. THE FIRE CLEAN-UP PEOPLE ARE HERE. THEY’VE GOT HUGE FANS TO DRY EVERYTHING OUT. THAT’S WHAT THE NOISE IS. NOBODY WAS HURT.” IN SHORT, CHOPPY SENTENCES, SHE LAID OUT WHAT HAD HAPPENED DURING THE TIME I’D BEEN SITTING, OBLIVIOUS, ON THE TRAIN.

THE COLLEAGUE WHO’D BEEN TRAVELING WITH ME..WE WERE ON OUR WAY TO SHOOT A STORY…DIDN’T REALIZE AT THAT POINT THAT SOMETHING WAS WRONG. HE WAS GOING ON AND ON IN AMAZEMENT ABOUT THE PLANE ON THE HUDSON. THE DETAILS OF THAT ASTONISHING MIRACLE..NOBODY DEAD, NOBODY EVEN INJURED, THE PERFECT LANDING…THEY ALL JUST DRIFTED PAST ME, LIKE DISTRACTING CHATTER AS I HELD A HAND OVER ONE EAR AND STRAINED TO LISTEN TO WHAT I WAS BEING TOLD ABOUT THE FIRE.

AS I SOON CAME TO UNDERSTAND, IT WAS ALSO AN ASTONISHING MIRACLE THAT NOBODY WAS DEAD OR INJURED IN THE BROWNSTONE WHERE I LIVE.. IF THE ORDER HAD BEEN REVERSED; IF THE PLANE HAD COME DOWN ON THE RIVER BEFORE MY KITCHEN CAUGHT FIRE, THERE MIGHT NOT HAVE BEEN FIRE ENGINES AVAILABLE TO PUT IT OUT. IF THE SUPER HADN’T BEEN VACUUMING IN THE HALLWAY AND HEARD THE SMOKE ALARM GO OFF; IF THE CO-OP BOARD PRESIDENT HADN’T BEEN NEARBY WITH A SET OF MY KEYS, THE OUTCOME MIGHT HAVE BEEN VERY DIFFERENT. MORE THAN MY KITCHEN WOULD HAVE BURNED…LOTS OF IFS..

NOTHING SEEMED REAL. SOMEHOW I FOUND MYSELF IN A TAXI, THEN PULLING UP TO A HOTEL. SOMEHOW I WAS CHECKED IN, MY LUGGAGE TAKEN TO MY ROOM, ETC. ETC…HOW DID IT GET TO BE DARK OUT?? I DIDN’T KNOW.

AND I DIDN’T KNOW ..YET..THAT THIS FIRE IN MY KITCHEN, FAR FROM BEING OUT, WOULD SMOLDER ON INSIDE ME LIKE SOME KIND OF TIME-RELEASE ANGUISH..

YOU IN THIS ROOM, YOU OF ALL PEOPLE, UNDERSTAND THAT A KITCHEN IS NOT JUST A ROOM. IT’S WHERE YOUR IDENTITY IS KEPT, ON A HOOK WITH YOUR APRON, ON A SHELF WITH THE SPLATTERED, DOG-EARED COOKBOOKS…IT’S WHERE MEANING IS MEASURED OUT IN SHINY METAL CUPS AND WHISKED INTO A HOPEFUL MIXTURE THAT IF COOKED UP JUST RIGHT, CAN SATISFY MANY KINDS OF HUNGER, BECAUSE FOOD IS SO MUCH MORE THAN JUST SOMETHING YOU EAT TO SURVIVE….

I’VE BEEN A REPORTER FOR NEARLY FORTY YEARS. IF I THINK BACK OVER THE STORIES I’VE COVERED THAT HAVE REALLY TOUCHED ME, FOOD HAS BEEN A FACTOR IN MOST OF THEM, ONE WAY OR ANOTHER.. I RECALL THE MAJOR LANDMARKS IN MY LIFE BY WAY OF FOOD EXPERIENCES…MOST OF THEM PLEASANT, BUT NOT ALL OF THEM.

MY KITCHEN WAS MY FIFTIETH BIRTHDAY PRESENT TO MYSELF. IT’S A TYPICAL NEW YORK KITCHEN, MEANING SMALL. IT’S SMALL BUT VERY GOOD.

I LOVED THE RICH-LOOKING, CUSTOM CABINETS, TWO ROWS OF THEM, CHERRY, RIGHT UP TO THE CEILING. I INSISTED ON HAVING A WALL FITTED OUT WITH BARS SO I COULD HANG THE POTS AND PANS AND BASKETS AND GADGETS I USED REGULARLY…AND SOME THINGS I HARDLY EVER USED BUT JUST ENJOYED SEEING THERE SUSPENDED FROM THEIR HOOKS.

I LOVED THE BIG, WELL-USED POT I TREATED MYSELF TO WHEN I FIRST MOVED TO LONDON IN 1980… AND MY FOUR, BLACK, CAST-IRON SKILLETS…AND THE BRIGHT RED-ENAMELED COLANDER THAT I BOUGHT FOR MY FIRST APARTMENT SOMETIME AROUND 1971… AND THE PEWTER PORRINGER HANGING BY ITS INTERESTING HANDLE..…AND MY WIRE HEN, DANGLING FROM A HOOK BY ONE WING. SHE WAS MEANT TO BE A BASKET FOR EGGS, I GUESS..THAT I’D FOUND WHEN I LIVED IN SOUTH AFRICA..I FILLED HER WITH PACKAGES OF NUTS FROM AIRPLANES OR BAGS OF COUGH DROPS OR CHOCOLATE. THE RUBBER BANDS I ACCUMULATED HUNG FROM HER CREST AND TAIL.

MY WALL OF HAPPY CLUTTER LOOKED TO ME LIKE A COLLECTION OF STORIES, REMEMBERED MEALS WITH FRIENDS, PLACES I’D LIVED OR WORKED. IT GAVE MY WINDOWLESS KITCHEN LIFE….

IF YOU SUBTRACTED THE COUNTERS AND APPLIANCES, THE MOVING AROUND SPACE WAS ONLY ABOUT FOUR FEET BY EIGHT FEET. IT HAD ITS SHARE OF PRESTIGE TOYS..BUT ITS BEST FEATURE WAS THE FLOOR..IF YOUR KITCHEN DOESN’T HAVE A WINDOW, NO MATTER HOW NICE IT IS, THE ONLY CANVAS YOU HAVE LEFT .. TO CREATE A SPECIAL SPACE.. IS THE FLOOR….WHAT I WANTED WAS A MOSAIC MADE TO LIKE A FADED ORIENTAL RUG. WHAT I ENDED UP WITH LOOKED LIKE A CROSS BETWEEN AN ORIENTAL AND MAYBE A NAVAJO RUG.. NOT PARTICULARLY FADED, BUT QUITE WONDERFUL.

SO IT WAS THE FLOOR I WAS THINKING ABOUT AS I STRUGGLED TO INTERVIEW AN ELDERLY ASTROPHYSICIST AT THE HARVARD OBSERVATORY THE MORNING AFTER THE FIRE.. ABOUT THE NATURE OF THE SUN. “THE DIAMETER OF THE SUN IS ONE HUNDRED TIMES THE DIAMETER OF EARTH,” HE SAID AS HE PUMPED AIR INTO A BIG BALLOON AND HANDED ME A SMALL MARBLE. I TOLD MYSELF TO CONCENTRATE AND TRIED HARD NOT TO IMAGINE WHAT I WOULD FIND WHEN I GOT HOME THAT NIGHT.

IT WAS PRETTY AWFUL. AS I REACHED MY FRONT DOOR, I PASSED TWO MEN HAULING AWAY ONE OF THE ORIENTAL RUGS I HAD USED AS INSPIRATION FOR THE MOSAIC. I’D GOTTEN IT IN BAGHDAD AFTER THE GULF WAR AND NOW HERE IT WAS, A BIG, SOGGY ROLL, DRIPPING A TRAIL OF WATER ACROSS THE LOBBY.

WHEN I WALKED IN MY FRONT DOOR, I’M NOT SURE WHICH WAS WORSE, THE PUTRID FIRE STINK OR THE NAUSEATING, FAKE FRUIT, CANDY SMELL, WHICH I DISCOVERED WAS THE DEODERIZER THE FIRE CLEAN-UP PEOPLE WERE USING IN THEIR FANS. AS BIG AND, I SWEAR, AS LOUD AS JET ENGINES, THREE WERE POSITIONED AROUND MY APARTMENT, ANOTHER ONE IN THE HALL. AT LEAST THE ELECTRICITY WAS WORKING. THE PHONE WAS NOT.

THERE WAS A PLASTIC SHEET COVERING THE ENTRANCE TO MY KITCHEN. OVER IT WERE HALF-A-DOZEN STRIPS OF YELLOW POLICE TAPE THAT INFORMED ME IN EMPHATIC BLACK LETTERS,“ DO-NOT- CROSS,” AS IF IT WERE A CRIME SCENE, AND I WAS A TRESPASSER IN MY OWN HOME.

“I’D LIKE TO SEE,” I TOLD RON, THE MAN IN CHARGE OF THE CLEAN-UP CREW. HE UNSTUCK THE TAPE, PULLED BACK THE PLASTIC SHEET AND IMMEDIATELY, I UNDERSTOOD WHY IT WAS A GOOD IDEA TO STAY OUT. HE POINTED HIS FLASHLIGHT INTO THE DARK VOID. THE STOVE, DISFIGURED, WAS TIPPED OVER. BEHIND IT, THE WALL WAS GONE. I COULD VAGUELY MAKE OUT SINGED BRICK. IT WAS THE SIDE OF THE BUILDING NEXT DOOR.

THE CEILING WAS GONE TOO. WHAT WAS LEFT OF THE LIGHTS HUNG DOWN IN A CRAZY TANGLE OF METAL AND WIRES. THE MICROWAVE WAS BURIED IN THE FOOT OF ASH AND RUBBLE THAT COVERED THE FLOOR. MY WALL OF POTS WAS STILL THERE, PART OF IT ANYWAY, BLACKENED AND UGLY NOW, BUT I COULD SEE MY WIRE CHICKEN STILL HANGING BY HER WING..AND ON AN UNDAMAGED SECTION OF COUNTER, A CERAMIC PITCHER SHAPED LIKE A PIG DRESSED UP LIKE A WAITER, THAT I’D GOTTEN YEARS BEFORE IN PORTUGAL…

I WONDERED IF ANYTHING COULD BE SALVAGED.

BY NINE O’CLOCK I’D BEEN TO BEST BUY…BY TEN-THIRTY THE SMALL REFRIGERATOR AND THE MICROWAVE I’D BOUGHT HAD BEEN DELIVERED. I PULLED OUT THE SWISS ARMY KNIFE I CARRY IN MY SUITCASE AND OPENED A BOTTLE OF WINE. THEN I REALIZED THE ONLY GLASS I COULD FIND HAD MY TOOTHBRUSH IN IT. I SAT DOWN ON THE SOOTY COUCH IN MY DEN WITH MY DOGS ON EITHER SIDE OF ME, AND FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE THE FIRE, CRIED.

IN 1983, I WAS SENT TO BEIRUT TO COVER THE LEBANON WAR. I WAS STRUCK BY THE INCREDIBLE RESILIENCE AND RESOURCEFULNESS OF THE LEBANESE. A BATTLE WOULD TAKE PLACE SOMEWHERE IN THE CITY. WHEN THE SHOOTING OR SHELLING BEGAN, WOMEN WOULD CRY OUT TO THEIR CHILDREN, GATHER THEM UP, AND SCURRY AWAY TO HIDE. THEY WOULD DISAPPEAR INTO APARTMENT BUILDINGS SCARRED FROM THE FIGHTING, SOMETIMES HALF IN RUINS. THE STREETS, NORMALLY NOISY WITH TRAFFIC AND COMMERCE, WOULD SUDDENLY BE TERRIFYINGLY EMPTY AND SILENT, THE ONLY SOUND.. GUNFIRE OR THE PERCUSSION OF ARTILLERY ECHOING EERILY.

OR THERE WOULD BE AN ENORMOUS EXPLOSION. EVEN A GOOD DISTANCE AWAY, YOU COULD FEEL ITS SEISMIC TREMOR ALL OVER YOUR BODY. IF YOU WERE NEARBY, THERE WOULD BE SHRIEKING, CHAOS, A CACOPHONY OF CAR ALARMS, SIRENS BRAYING AS RED CRESCENT AMBULANCES STRUGGLED TO GET TO WHAT INEVITABLY WAS THE AFTERMATH OF A CAR OR TRUCK BOMB…A CRATER IN THE GROUND, DEATH AND DEBRIS EVERYWHERE.

AND THEN, SOMETIMES ONLY MINUTES AFTER THE COMMOTION DIED DOWN, MEN WOULD BEGIN OPENING THE TRUNKS OF THEIR CARS AND SELLING WHATEVER WAS INSIDE. YOU’D HEAR THE CLATTER OF MERCHANTS RAISING THE SHUTTERS ON THEIR SHOPS AND WOMEN HAGGLING IN ARABIC ONCE MORE. LIFE WOULD RESUME, CAUTIOUSLY AT FIRST, BUT VERY QUICKLY AND BRAVELY.

THE JUICE BARS ALMOST NEVER CLOSED. I LOVED GOING OUT LATE AT NIGHT TO ONE NEAR THE HOTEL WHERE THE PRESS STAYED. IT WAS ALWAYS GARISHLY BRIGHT, LIT BY A STRING OF BARE LIGHTBULBS, LIKE A BIG TOOTHY SMILE IN THE DARKNESS. LONG BEFORE I REACHED THE PLACE, I WOULD HEAR THE WHINE OF THE JUICERS. THERE WAS ALWAYS FRUIT, LOTS OF FRUIT: ALL KINDS OF FRUIT, EVEN WHEN YOU WERE SURE, BECAUSE OF THE FIGHTING, THERE WOULD BE NOTHING.

I’D SEE BLUE-HELMETED UN SOLDIERS, AND SCARY-LOOKING GUYS WHO, BY DAY, WERE PROBABLY ENEMIES, MANNING CHECK-POINTS SET UP BY RIVAL MILITIAS. I’D SEE SKINNY LITTLE BOYS AND JOURNALISTS AND AMBULANCE DRIVERS, EVERYBODY LINED UP WITH THEIR EMPTY, PLASTIC WATER BOTTLES, LAUGHING AND JOKING WHILE THEY WAITED TO HAVE THEM FILLED WITH JUICE, AS IF IT WERE THE SAFEST PLACE IN THE WORLD.

I REMEMBER ONE DAY COMING UPON A HIGH-RISE APARTMENT BUILDING THAT HAD BEEN HIT BY A CAR BOMB. THE ENTIRE FAÇADE HAD BEEN SLICED OFF, SO IT LOOKED LIKE SOME SORT OF BIZARRE MULTI-UNIT DOLLHOUSE OR STAGE SET OR A GIANT, VERTICAL ANT FARM. I COULD SEE COUCHES STILL IN PLACE, TABLES AND CHAIRS, PICTURES ON THE WALLS… THE STAIRWAYS, THE BATHROOMS AND KITCHENS WERE ALL EXPOSED ON ONE SIDE. IT WAS AN EXTRAORDINARY SIGHT…MADE EVEN MORE SO BY THE FACT THAT PEOPLE WERE STILL LIVING THERE. MY CAMERA CREW AND I WATCHED AS A WOMAN IN BLACK CARRIED PLASTIC BAGS FILLED WITH GROCERIES THROUGH AN OPENING IN THE RUBBLE. SEVERAL CHILDREN WITH GALLON JUGS OF WATER FOLLOWED HER.

WE WERE AMAZED TO SEE THEM CLIMBING THE STAIRS, ZIG-ZAGGING UP FIVE OR SIX FLOORS UNTIL THEY REACHED A DOOR AND DISAPPEARED, ONLY TO RE-EMERGE THROUGH ANOTHER DOOR, THE FRONT DOOR TO THEIR APARTMENT. AS IF IT WERE A NORMAL DAY IN A NORMAL HOME, THEY SET DOWN WHAT THEY WERE CARRYING IN THE KITCHEN. THE WOMAN PUT EVERYTHING NEATLY AWAY AND THEN… BEGAN TO PREPARE A MEAL, WHILE THE CHILDREN BUSIED THEMSELVES IN THE LIVING ROOM, APPARENTLY OBLIVIOUS TO THE FACT THAT ONE WRONG MOVE, AND THEY WOULD FALL OVER THE JAGGED CONCRETE EDGE MORE THAN A HUNDRED FEET TO THEIR DEATHS.

MY CREW VIDEOTAPED ALL THIS. WE DECIDED WE HAD TO PAY THE FAMILY A VISIT. IT WAS STRANGE AND UNNERVING TO BE THERE WITH THE WALL MISSING AND THE GROUND SO FAR BELOW. THE APARTMENT WAS IMMACULATE AND TIDY. THE WOMAN COOKED ON A SMALL, KEROSENE STOVE..SHE SERVED HER CHILDREN RICE AND SOME VEGETABLES, PITA. SHE OFFERED US TEA AND WOULDN’T LET US SAY NO, ALTHOUGH SHE WAS CAREFUL ABOUT HOW MUCH WATER SHE POURED INTO THE POT TO BOIL.

SHE SERVED US WITH GREAT DIGNITY. HOW? HERE?

IT’S ONE THING TO COVER SOMEONE ELSE’S CATASTROPHE, SOMETHING ELSE ENTIRELY, WHEN IT HAPPENS TO YOU. I WAS THINKING ABOUT THAT WOMAN AND HER CHILDREN, AS I MADE UP MY MIND TO LIVE WELL IN MY FIRE-RAVAGED, KITCHENLESS APARTMENT. I, AT LEAST, HAD FOUR WALLS, HEAT, RUNNING WATER, ELECTRICITY, AND A REGULAR PAYCHECK.

I GOT MYSELF A SET OF MICROWAVABLE CASSEROLE DISHES; A SALAD SPINNER; A BIG, PLASTIC BIN WITH A LID, DOG-PROOF I HOPED, FOR CEREAL, SALT AND PEPPER, A FEW SPICES, OLIVE OIL, VINEGAR...PASTA, CANNED SOUP. I BOUGHT A COUPLE OF MUGS, SOME COOKING TOOLS, WINE GLASSES.

BOY, DID I FEEL SMART, WHEN I PICKED UP TWO SHALLOW TROUGHS AT THE HARDWARE STORE. THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO BE FOR MIXING PLASTER OR CONCRETE BUT I THOUGHT..YES… PERFECT FOR WASHING DISHES IN THE BATHTUB. A DISH DRAINER FIT NICELY INSIDE.

OFF I WENT TO BUY FOOD. I TOLD THE MAN BEHIND THE MEAT COUNTER ABOUT MY PREDICAMENT. HE SAID, “A GEORGE FOREMAN GRILL. THAT’S WHAT YOU NEED,” HAVING NEVER EVEN SEEN A GEORGE FOREMAN GRILL, OFF I WENT TO BUY ONE. I SPREAD EVERYTHING OUT ON MY SIDEBOARD AND DINING TABLE ON TOP OF SOME OF THE CONTRACTOR BAGS THE CLEANING CREW USED FOR FIRE TRASH, AND IT WAS READY, SET, COOK.

UNTIL THE CIRCUIT BREAKER TRIPPED. PRETTY SOON I FIGURED OUT WHAT I HAD TO PLUG IN WHERE AND TRIED SALMON FILET AND MUSHROOMS ON MY HANDY-DANDY GEORGE FOREMAN GRILL, SNOW PEAS IN THE MICROWAVE. MY GOOD CHINA AND THE NICE STAINLESS STEEL I SAVE FOR SPECIAL OCCASIONS WERE IN A CABINET IN MY DINING AREA, SAFE AND SOUND. NO QUESTION, THIS WAS A SPECIAL OCCASION. THAT NIGHT I HAD MY SALMON ON SPODE..WASHED DOWN WITH A GOOD PINOT NOIR..I CAN DO THIS, I THOUGHT.

AND I DID. DEALING WITH THE AFTERMATH OF A FIRE IS LIKE TAKING ON A SECOND FULL-TIME JOB, A STRESSFUL ONE. I HAD TO CONTEND WITH PEOPLE FROM THE FIRE DEPARTMENT, MY INSURANCE COMPANY, THE BUILDING’S INSURANCE COMPANY, THE INSURANCE COMPANIES FOR THE APARTMENT ABOVE ME, FOR THE APARTMENT BELOW ME, FOR THE BUILDING NEXT DOOR, FOR THE APARTMENT NEXT DOOR, WHOSE FAULTY CHIMNEY FLUE APPARENTLY CAUSED THE FIRE.

MEANWHILE, EVERYTHING IN THE KITCHEN WAS BEGINNING TO MOLD. THE CLEANING CREW HAD BEEN ORDERED TO DO NOTHING UNTIL EVERY LAST INVESTIGATOR AND ADJUSTER HAD POKED THROUGH THE WRECKAGE TO HIS HEART’S CONTENT. EVERY TIME I OPENED MY BACK DOOR, THE WIND WOULD GUST BLOWING IN THE PLASTIC SHEETING AND POLICE TAPE. IMMEDIATELY, THE DOGS WOULD TRY TO GET IN TO NOSE AROUND IN THE TOXIC MESS.

SO GETTING GOOD AT MAKING DINNER BECAME A NECESSARY DIVERSION. I WON’T SAY COMIC RELIEF. I THOUGHT, WHY CAN’T I COOK PASTA IN THE MICROWAVE..? IT CAN TAKE A VERY LONG TIME, I DISCOVERED, AND REQUIRES A LOT OF WATER, BUT IT IS POSSIBLE. A TIP…ORZO…I LEARNED TO MAKE STUFFED VEGETABLES A LA GEORGE FORMAN AND A PRETTY GOOD MICROWAVE MEAT SAUCE. I MADE RICE AND MIXED IT WITH LEFTOVER ROTISSERIE CHICKEN TO CONCOCT MICROWAVE CURRIES. I CHEATED SOMETIMES, BY PICKING UP RICE AT THE CHINESE RESTAURANT A BLOCK AWAY, BUT IT BECAME A MATTER OF PRIDE NOT TO ORDER IN.

A PHOTOGRAPHER I KNOW SUGGESTED I WRITE A COPING-WITH-CALAMITY COOKBOOK AND OFFERED TO TAKE PICTURES. I ACTUALLY CONSIDERED IT BUT REALIZED I HAD OTHER, MORE PRESSING THINGS TO DO…LIKE MY JOB, AND I HAD TO FIGURE OUT WHERE I COULD MOVE MYSELF, MY AU PAIR, AND TWO LARGISH DOGS FOR SEVERAL MONTHS, AS THE TIME APPROACHED TO REPAIR AND REBUILD.

YES, CREATIVE INDOOR CAMPING HAD ITS OWN SATISFACTIONS. IT BROUGHT OUT SOME WEIRD DETERMINATION AND PRIDE IN ME, BUT SIX WEEKS WAS ABOUT ENOUGH. LIVING IN MY OWN APARTMENT HAD A DEFINITE WAR ZONE QUALITY ABOUT IT.

DURING THE FIRST GULF WAR, IN 1991, I BOUGHT A LITTLE BUTANE BRAZIER AND A CHEAP METAL TEAPOT, SO AT LEAST I COULD BOIL WATER FOR COFFEE OR RAMEN NOODLE SOUP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SAUDI DESERT. THE HOTEL WHERE I STAYED LATER IN KUWAIT CITY HAD BEEN FIREBOMBED. THE ELEVATORS DIDN’T WORK.. NO ELECTRICITY…SO I REMEMBER HAVING TO CLIMB SOMETHING LIKE SIX FLIGHTS OF STAIRS TO MY ROOM, WHERE EVERYTHING WAS SMEARED WITH BLACKENED, OILY GUNK. BUT I MADE GOOD COFFEE EVERY MORNING WITH MY BRAZIER, BY LANTERN LIGHT. THE IRAQIS SET FIRE TO HUNDREDS OF OIL WELLS BEFORE THEY RETREATED. THICK SMOKE HUNG OVER MUCH OF THE COUNTRY. MOST DAYS IT WAS DARK AS NIGHT AT LEAST UNTIL NOON.

AFTER THE FIRE IN MY KITCHEN, I WAS LUCKY. I HAD AN ELECTRIC KETTLE, AS DID PEGGY O’HARA IN THE PUBLIC TOILETS, WHERE SHE WORKED, IN DERRY, THE CITY IN NORTHERN IRELAND THE BRITISH CALL LONDONDERRY. IT WAS 1981. PEGGY WAS THE MOTHER OF PATSY O’HARA, ONE OF TEN CATHOLIC HUNGER STRIKERS, WHO STARVED THEMSELVES TO DEATH INSIDE THE MAZE PRISON NEAR BELFAST, AS PART OF A POLITICAL PROTEST AGAINST BRITISH RULE IN THE NORTH.

MAYBE A MONTH INTO THE FAST, SHE INVITED ME TO TEA. I HAD MET HER COVERING A MARCH IN SUPPORT OF THE HUNGER STRIKERS AND LATER INTERVIEWED HER, BUT I WAS STILL SURPRISED TO FIND A MESSAGE AT MY HOTEL ASKING ME TO MEET HER. IN THE PUBLIC TOILETS…WHAT AN ODD PLACE…WHAT DOES SHE WANT?

THE LADIES WAS DOWN SOME STEPS.. BELOW GROUND.. DAMPISH AND DIM..COLD. WHEN MY EYES ADJUSTED, I SAW A BOXLIKE ROOM BUILT OUT FROM ONE WALL, WITH A DOOR AND A WINDOW, HUNG WITH CHEERY LACE CURTAINS. PEGGY O’HARA SAT IN A CHAIR FACING THE STALLS AND THE SINKS WITH A SMALL SPACE HEATER GLOWING RED AT HER FEET. THERE WERE TWO MORE CHAIRS OPPOSITE HER AND A LITTLE TABLE.

SHE PUT ON HER ELECTRIC KETTLE, WENT INTO THE MYSTERIOUS ROOM, AND CAME OUT WITH CUPS, SAUCERS, SPOONS, TEA, A SMALL CARTON OF MILK, A PLATE, NAPKINS, AND A TIN OF COOKIES ON A TRAY. WOMEN CAME DOWN THE STAIRS, USED THE FACILITIES, WASHED UP, COMBED THEIR HAIR AND LEFT AGAIN. SOME GREETED PEGGY AS SHE LAID OUT THE TEA THINGS.

AND THEN, DOWN CAME A WOMAN WITH FROWZY GRAY HAIR, WEARING A SHAPELESS, RATHER WORN, WOOL COAT THAT SEEMED TO GO WITH HER WORN, LINED FACE. WHEN SHE WAS INTRODUCED TO ME, SHE SMILED SHYLY, REVEALING A MOUTH WITH SEVERAL MISSING TEETH. EMILY WAS PEGGY O’HARA’S BEST FRIEND FROM CHILDHOOD. SHE WOULD BE JOINING US.

PEGGY MEASURED OUT LOOSE TEA INTO EACH CUP AND POURED BOILING WATER OVER IT. AS IT SETTLED AND COOLED, PEGGY AND EMILY LAUGHED AND GIGGLED LIKE THE GIRLS THEY HAD NEARLY FORGOTTEN HOW TO BE. THEY TOLD ME STORIES OF GROWING UP TOGETHER. THE WORRY ON PEGGY’S FACE DRAINED AWAY AS WE DRANK OUR TEA AND PASSED AROUND THE COOKIES..ENGLISH COOKIES I NOTICED.

WHEN MY CUP WAS EMPTY, EMILY CLAPPED HER HANDS AND GAILY ANNOUNCED SHE WAS GOING TO TELL MY FORTUNE.

WHEN I STARTED TO PROTEST, SHE SAID, “OH YEESSSS..” AND ORDERED ME TO HOLD OUT ONE HAND. WITH A CONSPIRATORIAL GLANCE AT PEGGY, SHE TOOK MY CUP AND TIPPED IT OVER INTO MY OPEN PALM. I STARED AT THE WET TEA LEAVES. THE TWO OLD FRIENDS BENT OVER ME AND BOTH OOHED AND AAHED. NOBODY HAD EVER TOLD MY FORTUNE BEFORE.

EMILY PEERED AT ME AND ANNOUNCED THAT I HAD A FINE FORTUNE INDEED. SHE POKED THE TEA LEAVES A LITTLE BIT WITH ONE FINGER AND SAID SHE COULD SEE A LARGE BUILDING, AN OFFICE BUILDING.. IN LONDON PERHAPS…

A TOILET FLUSHED. SHE LOOKED UP, THEN CONTINUED…“AND I SEE A MAN..GOING INTO THE BUILDING..HE’S DARK…SHORT…VERY WELL-DRESSED...MAYBE HE’S FROM THE MIDDLE EAST.”

WHERE DID SHE GET THAT???? I MUST HAVE BEEN LOOKING VERY SKEPTICAL, BUT SHE WENT ON..”HE’S RICH, AND YOU MEET AND FALL IN LOVE.” I LAUGHED OUT LOUD. “NO, REALLY,” SHE INSISTED AND ERUPTED INTO ANOTHER PEAL OF GIGGLES. PEGGY NODDED AND SMILED. ANOTHER TOILET FLUSHED. EMILY TOOK A NAPKIN AND WIPED THE TEA LEAVES OFF MY HAND, SAID GOODBYE AND LEFT.

THE WORRY RETURNED TO PEGGY’S FACE.

“DO YOU THINK SHE’LL LET THEM DIE? MARGARET THATCHER IS A MOTHER. SHE’LL STOP IT BEFORE THEY DIE, WON’T SHE? THEY WON’T DIE. MY WEE PATSY. HE’LL BE FINE. YOU, AS A JOURNALIST, YOU MUST KNOW SOMETHING.“

I SAID I DIDN’T KNOW.

“WILL YOU COME AND SEE ME AGAIN?” I SAID I WOULD, AND I DID, NEARLY EVERY DAY UNTIL HER WEE PATSY WAS DEAD.

WHEN I THINK OF THE BOSNIAN WAR, I THINK FIRST OF BLOOD RED TOMATOES IN BANJA LUKA. IN EARLY AUGUST, 1992, SEVERAL BRITISH JOURNALISTS MANAGED TO GET INTO PREVIOUSLY SECRET PRISON CAMPS OPERATED BY THE SERBS IN THE NORTHWESTERN PART OF BOSNIA AND HERZOGOVINA. THE FEW PICTURES THEY WERE ABLE TO SNEAK OUT WERE HORRIFIC..LIKE AUSCHWITZ AT THE END OF WW2…EMACIATED MEN WITH HOLLOW, HAUNTED EYES BEHIND BARBED WIRE.

WITHIN HOURS OF THOSE PICTURES APPEARING, I WAS SENT TO TRY AND GET INTO THE CAMPS AS WELL. I WASN’T THE ONLY ONE. “GO TO BANJA LUKA,” WE WERE ALL TOLD, “THAT’S THE CLOSEST PLACE,” AND DOZENS OF REPORTERS AND PHOTOGRAPHERS DESCENDED UPON A HOTEL WITH MOST OF ITS WINDOWS SHOT OUT, A PLACE WHERE INSTINCTIVELY YOU KNEW NOT TO BE VISIBLE MOVING AROUND IN YOUR ROOM AT NIGHT.

AND YET, PEOPLE GATHERED ON THE ROOF, A PLACE PRESUMABLY SAFE FROM SNIPERS. IT WAS HOT. THERE WAS A BREEZE AND LIGHT UP THERE AND THE REMAINING VESTIGES OF A RESTAURANT. I SEEM TO REMEMBER BEING ABLE TO ORDER BEER, OR MAYBE WE ALL BROUGHT OUR OWN, BUT THE ONE FOOD AVAILABLE WAS TOMATOES, BIG PLATTERS, PILED WITH THICK RED SLICES ON EVERY TABLE, SO VERY RED...AND GLISTENING..IN MY MEMORY, OF COURSE IT WASN’T TRUE, EVERYTHING ELSE WAS GRAY. THE ONLY COLOR WAS THE RED OF THE TOMATOES.

THEY WERE, BY FAR, THE MOST DELICIOUS TOMATOES I’VE EVER EATEN. I WAS TOLD THAT BECAUSE OF THE FIGHTING, THEY WERE LYING IN ABANDONED FIELDS NEXT TO THE RUINS OF BURNED-OUT FARMHOUSES, A WHOLE SEASON’S CROP THERE FOR THE TAKING BY ANYONE DARING ENOUGH TO TRY. THEY WOULD JUST ROT IF NO ONE DID.

RICHARD HOLBROOKE WAS ON THE ROOF WHEN I ARRIVED. THREE YEARS LATER, AS ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE, HE WOULD BROKER THE PEACE AGREEMENT THAT ENDED THE WAR IN THE FORMER YUGOSLAVIA, BUT THAT NIGHT HE HAD JUST ARRIVED TOO, ON HIS FIRST-EVER TRIP TO BOSNIA, AS A PRIVATE CITIZEN NOT AS A DIPLOMAT. HOLBROOKE WAS TRAVELING WITH A PEACE GROUP. SWEAT SOAKED HIS SHIRT AS HE TOLD ME HOW THEIR CONVOY HAD BEEN FIRED ON AS THEY DROVE IN FROM CROATIA.

HE ASKED ME WHY I WAS THERE. WHEN I TOLD HIM I WAS TRYING TO GET INTO THE PRISON CAMPS, HE TURNED, AND POINTED AT A BLONDISH MAN IN THE MIDDLE OF A GROUP AT ANOTHER TABLE, SPEAKING AND BEING SPOKEN TO THROUGH A TRANSLATOR . “GO INTRODUCE YOURSELF TO HIM, “ HE SAID. “BERNARD KOUCHNER.”

WHEN I LOOKED PUZZLED, HE EXPLAINED THAT BERNARD KOUCHNER, THE FOUNDER OF MEDECINS SANS FRONTIERS..DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS..WAS NOW THE FRENCH MINISTER OF HUMANITARIAN AFFAIRS. THE MEN AT THE TABLE WITH HIM WERE LOCAL OFFICIALS FROM THE AREA BETWEEN BANJA LUKA AND THE PRISON CAMPS. HE WAS NEGOTIATING PERMISSION TO VISIT THE CAMPS TO SEE FOR HIMSELF. I WONDERED HOW MUCH THEY KNEW, HOW MUCH THEY WEREN’T TELLING.

HOLBROOKE SAID, “IF YOU CAN, GO WITH HIM. DON’T WAIT FOR THE AMERICANS. YOU’LL HAVE BETTER ACCESS. HE’S VERY GOOD.”

DICK WAS RIGHT. KOUCHNER WAS GIVEN PERMISSION TO MAKE THE TRIP AND WAS HAPPY TO HAVE ME AND MY CREW ALONG. WE WERE THE ONLY JOURNALISTS WORKING FOR AN AMERICAN NEWS ORGANIZATION WHO WENT WITH HIM. MOST WERE FRENCH, BUT KOUCHNER SPOKE EXCELLENT ENGLISH. WE CREPT OFF BEFORE DAWN, BEFORE OUR COLLEAGUES REALIZED WE WERE GONE.

WE WENT TO TWO CAMPS: OMARSKA AND MANJACA. THE IMAGE ABOVE ALL OTHERS I THINK OF WHEN I REMEMBER THAT DAY WAS OF A BARN OPEN AT EITHER END, A VERY LARGE SHED REALLY, LINED WITH ROWS AND ROWS OF MEN, LIVING SKELETONS, HUNDREDS OF THEM, SITTING ON THE CONCRETE FLOOR SHOULDER TO SHOULDER, BACK TO BACK.

THE GUARDS, HEAVY AND HEAVILY ARMED…WHAT A CONTRAST…LED US UP AND DOWN THE ROWS, BERNARD KOUCHNER AND HIS AIDES FIRST, THEN THE REST OF US. THE PRISONERS, BOSNIAN MUSLIMS AND CROATS, FOLLOWED US WITH THEIR EYES, WHICH LOOKED HUGE AND TERRIFIED AND SAD. I REMEMBER THE SOUNDS AS WE PASSED.. BIRDS SINGING AS THEY SWOOPED BACK AND FORTH ABOVE OUR HEADS IN THE RAFTERS, THE CLICK AND WHINE OF STILL CAMERAS, AND SOFT WEEPING.

BERNARD KOUCHNER BEGAN QUESTIONING THE GUARDS, TO KEEP THEM BUSY, I THINK, WHILE THE JOURNALISTS TRIED TO INTERVIEW THE PRISONERS. WE GOT A SENTENCE FROM ONE, TWO SENTENCES FROM ANOTHER, AND SO ON, SNATCHES OF STORIES ABOUT MEN BEING MARCHED AWAY AT NIGHT AND NEVER COMING BACK, OF SCREAMS, OF SHOTS…OF WOMEN FROM NEIGHBORING CAMPS BEING FORCED TO WORK AND THEN BEING RAPED. IT WAS THE SAME AT BOTH OF THE PLACES WE WENT. I ASKED ONE MAN WHY HE WAS CRYING. HE SAID IN TERRIBLE GASPS, “BECAUSE YOU ARE FREE. YOU CAN LEAVE. WE CAN’T.” OUR INTERPRETER CHOKED ON HIS WORDS AS HE TRANSLATED.

I LOOKED AT THOSE STARVING MEN AND THOUGHT OF THE BLOOD RED TOMATOES AND KNEW THAT WHENEVER I RECALLED THAT HORRIBLE WAR, I WOULD CONNECT THOSE TWO IMAGES. TOGETHER THEY SAID SO MUCH..

MOST OF THE CAMPS WERE CLOSED WITHIN DAYS, BUT BEFORE ALL THE PRISONERS COULD BE FREED, HUNDREDS WERE MASSACRED.

MY MOTHER DIED THREE WEEKS LATER.. OF COLON CANCER. ONCE I GOT WORD THAT SHE WAS BACK IN THE HOSPITAL AND NOT LIKELY TO SURVIVE, IT TOOK ME FIVE DAYS TO GET FROM BANJA LUKA TO BELGRADE TO BUDAPEST, TO LONDON, TO ATLANTA, AND FINALLY TO CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA.

THE TRIP FROM BELGRADE TO BUDAPEST WAS BIZARRELY FUNNY AND INFURIATING. OUR DRIVER HAD AN OLD MERCEDES. NOT FAR FROM THE SERBIAN/ HUNGARIAN BORDER, A BIRD FLEW INTO THE FRONT OF THE CAR WITH A HARD ..THUNK.. A FEW MINUTES LATER, THE ENGINE WAS SMOKING. THE BIRD HAD PUNCTURED THE RADIATOR, SO THE FLUID LEAKED OUT.

STOPPING, COOLING DOWN, REFILLING; STOPPING, COOLING DOWN, REFILLING, WE MANAGED TO LIMP INTO A TOWN. THE DRIVER ACTUALLY TRIED CHEWING GUM TO PATCH THE HOLE. HE BOUGHT A PACK, PUT ALL OF IT IN HIS MOUTH AT ONCE, AND WORKED IT INTO A BIG, STRETCHY BLOB. BUT, IT DIDN’T WORK...DON’T BELIEVE THE STORIES…

ANOTHER CAR PUSHED US TO A MECHANIC’S SHOP. HOURS OF TINKERING DID NO GOOD. THE MECHANIC HAD A FRIEND, WHO HAD A FRIEND, WHO HAPPENED TO HAVE AN IDENTICAL OLD MERCEDES. I HANDED OVER HUNDREDS OF DOLLARS TO THE FRIEND OF THE FRIEND, WHOSE EYES GLITTERED WITH GLADNESS AND GREED AS HIS OLD RADIATOR BECAME OUR NEW ONE. AFTER ANOTHER COUPLE OF HOURS WE WERE ON OUR WAY AGAIN, BUT I HAD LOST A DAY.

CROSSING INTO HUNGARY WAS LIKE ENTERING A DIFFERENT UNIVERSE. INSTEAD OF SERBIA’S DRAB, RUN-DOWN VILLAGES AND TOWNS,THERE WERE GREEN, TREE-LINED STREETS, GRAND, OLD 19TH CENTURY BUILDINGS THAT REMINDED ME OF CORSETED, OVERDRESSED DOWAGERS. IN TOWN AFTER TOWN, I SAW PEOPLE GATHERED IN LEAFY SQUARES, FAMILIES WITH CHILDREN, LAUGHING COUPLES, TEENAGERS..AT ICE CREAM STANDS WITH FLUTTERING AWNINGS..THE PINK AND WHITE AND BROWN OF THEIR CONES CRAYON BRIGHT IN THE LATE AFTERNOON SUNLIGHT. THE DRIVER TOLD ME THE ICE CREAM IN THAT PART OF HUNGARY WAS FAMOUS.

HOW STRANGE IT ALL SEEMED, SAILING BY MY WINDOW, AS I WONDERED WHETHER MY MOTHER WOULD DIE BEFORE I REACHED CHARLESTON.

I GOT THERE IN TIME. I WAS HOLDING HER HAND WHEN SHE DIED ON SEPTEMBER 6, 1992.

MY MOTHER DIDN’T WANT A FUNERAL, SO WHEN I TOOK HER ASHES TO NORTHERN MICHIGAN TO BURY, I LOOKED UP TELEPHONE NUMBERS FOR THE PEOPLE WHO HAD BEEN MY PARENTS’ FRIENDS WHEN THEY ALL WERE STARTING OUT TOGETHER AT THE END OF WW2, JUST MARRIED, MANY OF THEM NEW TO THE AREA, TRYING TO MAKE LIVES FOR THEMSELVES IN A PLACE THAT WAS BEAUTIFUL BUT BACKWARD, A PLACE LIKE SO MANY OTHERS, UNPREPARED FOR SO MANY MEN JUST OUT OF THE SERVICE AND SO MANY FAMILIES WITH NO PLACE TO LIVE.

NEARLY FIFTY YEARS LATER, A FEW OF MY PARENTS’ FRIENDS WERE STILL ALIVE. I INVITED THEM TO COME TO THE LITTLE CEMETERY JUST OUTSIDE LELAND, SNUG AND SHADY ON THE EDGE OF LAKE LEELANAU. ANY MICHIGANDER CAN SHOW YOU WHERE IT IS..HOLD OUT YOUR LEFT HAND..SEE THE LOWER KNUCKLE ON YOUR LITTLE FINGER..RIGHT THERE…LAKE MICHIGAN IS ON THE LEFT..LAKE LEELANAU IS ABOUT WHERE THE CREASE IS.

THE PINE TREE WHICH HAD BEEN THE SIZE OF A NINE YEAR OLD CHILD, MY SIZE, WHEN MY FATHER WAS BURIED BESIDE IT IN 1957, WAS AT LEAST FORTY FEET HIGH, WHEN WE GATHERED UNDER IT THAT SEPTEMBER DAY. THE WEATHER HAD TURNED COLD AND DRIZZLY, BUT THE FALL COLORS WERE AT THEIR PEAK AND THROUGH THE TREES, WE COULD SEE SMALL WHITECAPS ON THE WINTRY BLUE OF THE LAKE. MY PARENTS’ FRIENDS, THOSE FADING, POST-WAR PIONEERS, TOLD STORIES ABOUT WHEN THEY WERE YOUNG AND FULL OF HOPE. THEY LAUGHED AND SMILED AND RECALLED THEMSELVES AS THEY WERE THEN..WHEN MY FATHER BROUGHT SKIING TO THE REGION AND MY MOTHER QUIT A GOOD JOB IN CHICAGO TO COME WITH HIM.

THE BURRYS WERE THERE. AFTER THE WAR, CLARENCE AND LEONA BURRY STARTED A FAMILY RESTAURANT IN CEDAR, POPULATION..OH, MAYBE 200. CEDAR IS MILDLY FAMOUS NOW FOR PLEVA’S, THE BUTCHER SHOP THAT OPENED NEXT DOOR TO BURRY’S IN 1946. PLEVA’S CHERRY SAUSAGE WAS FEATURED ON OPRAH. A PLEVA GIRL WAS MISS MICHIGAN FIFTEEN YEARS OR SO AGO. THE STORE IS THRIVING..IT HAS AN ELABORATE WEBSITE..YOU NEED THAT IF YOU’RE LOCATED IN CEDAR..BUT THE BURRYS RETIRED AND CLOSED THEIR RESTAURANT YEARS AGO, LONG BEFORE WEBSITES.

AS WE LEFT THE CEMETERY, THEY INVITED ME TO DINNER THE NEXT NIGHT. UNTIL MY FATHER DIED, AND MY MOTHER AND I MOVED AWAY, WE HAD SUNDAY DINNER AT BURRY’S RESTAURANT ALMOST EVERY WEEK, YEAR-ROUND. THE MEAL WOULD START WITH CELERY AND CARROT STICKS AND A FEW PIMENTO OLIVES IN A OVAL-SHAPED, CUT-GLASS RELISH DISH, VERY 1950S. THEN CAME A SALAD WITH SWEET, POPPY SEED DRESSING. AFTER THAT, THE MAIN COURSE, SERVED FAMILY STYLE, USUALLY THE HOUSE SPECIALTY.

CLARENCE BURRY WAS A SHORT, ROUND MAN WITH THICK WHITE HAIR SLICKED STRAIGHT BACK FROM HIS FOREHEAD WITHOUT A PART. HE WOULD BURST FROM THE KITCHEN SMILING, IN HIS WHITE APRON, TRIUMPHANTLY CARRYING A PLATTER OF SWISS STEAK. LEONA BURRY, TALLER, DARK, AND QUIET, WOULD FOLLOW HIM WITH A STEAMING BOWL OF MASHED POTATOES IN ONE HAND, A GREEN VEGETABLE IN THE OTHER, USUALLY PEAS WITH LITTLE DENTS IN THEM. THE TWO OF THEM WERE THE PICTURE OF GOODNESS.

I REALLY LIKED THE BURRYS..I REALLY HATED SWISS STEAK, LOATHED SWISS STEAK. I DISLIKED MASHED POTATOES ALMOST AS MUCH AND STILL DO, SOMETHING ABOUT THE TEXTURE. I CAN’T TELL YOU HOW THE SWISS STEAK WAS COOKED, ONLY THAT IT WAS COOKED FOR A LONG TIME, SO LONG ALL THE FIBERS SEPARATED INTO SHAGGY STRINGS..IT WAS COVERED WITH A THICK, DARK, SHINY SAUCE MY FATHER, IN PARTICULAR, RAVED ABOUT.…

THE PLATTER HEAPED WITH THIS ABOMINATION SAT AT JUST ABOUT MY EYE LEVEL AS A SMALL CHILD, LIKE A REBUKE. NEEDLESS TO SAY, I HAD TO EAT WHAT WAS ON MY PLATE OR THERE WOULD BE NO PIE FOR ME. I LOVED LEONA BURRY’S LEMON MERINGUE PIE AS MUCH AS I DETESTED SWISS STEAK.

WHEN THE BURRYS INVITED ME TO DINNER, OF COURSE I SAID YES. I WAS TOUCHED THAT A COUPLE IN THEIR LATE SEVENTIES WOULD TAKE THE TROUBLE. THEY HAD MOVED FROM THE APARTMENT ABOVE THE RESTAURANT TO A NEWISH HOUSE IN THE WOODS. I WALKED TO THEIR DOOR ON A CARPET OF FALLEN LEAVES, YELLOW AND ORANGE AND RED, DAPPLED BY WHAT WAS LEFT OF THE DAY’S SUN. THE BURRYS ATE EARLY.

THEY REMINDED ME THAT MY MOTHER HAD GIVEN THEM THE CRADLE I SLEPT IN AS A BABY, AN ANTIQUE THAT EACH OF THEIR GRANDCHILDREN HAD ALSO SLEPT IN AND OUTGROWN. THEY CALLED ME MARTHA ALICE, WHICH ALMOST NO ONE ELSE EVER DID. THE SMALL TALK WAS SWEET AND NOSTALGIC. LEONA ASKED ABOUT ALL THE THINGS MY MOTHER’S CHRISTMAS LETTERS DIDN’T TELL HER. CLARENCE WAS IN THE KITCHEN.

AS THE SUN WENT DOWN, AND I COULDN’T THINK OF ANYTHING ELSE TO SAY, IT WAS TIME FOR DINNER. I GUESS I SHOULD HAVE GUESSED WHAT I WAS IN FOR…OUT CAME A CUT-GLASS RELISH TRAY WITH CARROT AND CELERY STICKS AND SOME PIMENTO OLIVES, STRAIGHT OUT OF 1957.

LEONA BEAMED AS CLARENCE APPEARED WITH IT. “WE REMEMBERED HOW YOU AND YOUR PARENTS ALWAYS USED TO COME TO THE RESTAURANT,” SHE SAID, “SO WE DECIDED TO HAVE YOUR MOTHER AND DAD’S FAVORITE MEAL.”

OH OH…WHEN CLARENCE ARRIVED WITH SWISS STEAK, THEN MASHED POTATOES, AND FINALLY DENTED PEAS, HIS ENTIRE, STOUT BODY OOZED PLEASURE.

I HADN’T HAD SWISS STEAK FOR THIRTY FIVE YEARS, THE TIME ELAPSED SINCE I HAD LAST EATEN AT BURRY’S RESTAURANT AT THE AGE OF NINE. ACTUALLY, I HAD FORGOTTEN ABOUT SWISS STEAK, BUT NOW, INSTANTLY, ALL THOSE CHILDHOOD SUNDAYS, EYE TO EYE WITH THE HEAPING, HATED PLATTER CAME FLOODING BACK.

THE PROBLEM WAS HOW TO CHOKE DOWN MY LAUGHTER. I TOOK A BIG SWALLOW OF WATER AND DECIDED THE ONLY WAY I COULD KEEP FROM BURSTING WAS TO FILL MY MOUTH WITH SWISS STEAK AND START CHEWING LIKE MAD. SOMETIMES PEOPLE GROW UP AND LEARN TO LIKE FOODS THEY HATED AS CHILDREN. I HATED SWISS STEAK JUST AS MUCH AFTER THIRTY FIVE YEARS AS EVER, THE STRINGY TEXTURE, THE SAUCE.

THE BURRYS..YOU WOULD SAY IN ATLANTA, “BLESS THEIR HEARTS,” TOOK MY RESPONSE AS ENTHUSIASM AND INSISTED I HAVE SECONDS, THEIR KIND, HOSPITABLE FACES LOOKING SO GLAD THEY HAD FOUND SUCH A FINE WAY TO EASE MY PAIN, TO COMFORT ME AFTER MY LOSS.

THEN LEONA BURRY BROUGHT OUT A LEMON MERINGUE PIE, AND I WAS COMFORTED. AT THE SIGHT OF MY PIECE OF THAT BRIGHT YELLOW WONDER, WITH ITS WHITE POMPADOUR OF MERINGUE, MY GRIEF SUBSIDED EVER SO BRIEFLY. THE PIE WAS JUST AS GOOD AS I REMEMBERED IT. I ASKED FOR THE RECIPE, AND LEONA SENT IT TO ME, WRITTEN IN NEATLY SLANTED, OLD-FASHIONED, SCHOOL PENMANSHIP.

MY MOTHER’S HANDWRITING WAS TIGHT AND ROUND AND UPRIGHT. A FEW YEARS BEFORE SHE DIED, I ASKED HER TO WRITE OUT THE RECIPES FOR THE THINGS SHE MADE THAT I LOVED FROM CHILDHOOD. THE NEXT TIME SHE VISITED ME IN SOUTH AFRICA OR LONDON, WHEREVER IT WAS I WAS LIVING AT THE TIME, SHE PRESENTED ME WITH A SMALL BOOKLET WITH TWO OWLS ON THE COVER.

INSIDE, HER PRIM, ROUND LETTERS IN BLUE INK.. SHE HAD INCLUDED MAYBE TEN RECIPES AT THE MOST, FOR VARIOUS KINDS OF PANCAKES, HER CHOCOLATE CAKE, HER POTATO SALAD, SOME HOLIDAY COOKIES, CHRISTMAS STOLLEN, HER APPLE PIE. SHE WASN’T A GREAT COOK, BUT SHE WAS A TERRIFIC BAKER. I CAN STILL SEE HER FLOURY FINGERS PINCHING THE DOUGH INTO A NICE ZIG-ZAG AROUND THE EDGE OF THE PIE PAN.

MY MOTHER’S APPLE PIE WAS THE BEST I’VE EVER HAD. EVERYBODY SAYS THAT ABOUT THEIR MOTHER’S APPLE PIE…BUT I’VE SPENT MY ENTIRE ADULT LIFE IN A HOLY GRAIL SORT OF PURSUIT, TRYING TO COME CLOSE.

THE APPLE PART IS EASY. IT’S THE CRUST THAT’S TRICKY. SHE MADE HERS WITH UNBLEACHED FLOUR, LARD, A LITTLE SALT, AND MILK, NOT ICE WATER. SHE DIDN’T USE A FOOD PROCESSOR. SHE JUST MIXED EVERYTHING TOGETHER WITH HER FINGERS, AND AFTER A FEW QUICK PATS AND KNEADS, ROLLED OUT THE DOUGH VERY FAST. EACH PERFECT, PAPER-THIN ROUND ALWAYS MADE IT FROM THE WAXED PAPER TO THE PIE PAN IN ONE PIECE. SHE MIGHT AS WELL HAVE BEEN WAVING A WAND OVER THE DOUGH AND SAYING ABRACADABRA, FOR ALL I COULD FIGURE OUT THE SECRET OF HER TECHNIQUE. HER PIE CRUST CAME OUT…SHORT, CRISP, FLAKY..EVERY TIME. THE ADJECTIVES THAT DESCRIBE SOME OF MY ATTEMPTS..STIFF, SOGGY, GUMMY, EVEN WHEN I USED HER RECIPE.

BUT I NEVER STOPPED TRYING TO LEARN HER TRICK. THE LITTLE RECIPE BOOK WITH THE OWLS ON IT WAS MY TALISMAN. BY JUST OPENING IT, I COULD SEE MY MOTHER MAKING HER PIES.

I KEPT IT IN MY KITCHEN. AFTER MY MOTHER’S DEATH, IRREPLACEABLE, THE BOOKLET BECAME ONE OF MY MOST PRIZED POSSESSIONS.

AFTER THE FIRE, WHEN I WAS FINALLY ALLOWED TO CROSS THE POLICE TAPE, SCAVENGING THROUGH THE MOLD AND ASH, I FOUND IT, SOOTY, A LITTLE WATER-STAINED, BUT THERE IT WAS. I CRIED.

IT DIDN’T GO INTO STORAGE WITH MY FURNITURE AND MY OTHER COOKBOOKS, WHEN WE MOVED OUT DURING THE RESTORATION. I TOOK IT WITH ME TO THE FURNISHED APARTMENT I RENTED. I WANTED IT NEAR ME.

BY MID-SUMMER MY KITCHEN HAD BEEN REBUILT, ALMOST EXACTLY AS IT WAS BEFORE BUT BETTER..IDENTICAL CABINETS AND GRANITE COUNTERS, THE SAME REFRIGERATOR AND DISHWASHER, ONLY BRAND NEW.. A FANCIER STOVE TO REPLACE MY OLD ONE, WHICH WAS NO LONGER MADE. THE MOSAIC FLOOR WAS FINE. SOMETIMES, I ALMOST FORGOT THERE HAD EVER BEEN A FIRE. REPLACEMENT POTS HUNG FROM THEIR HOOKS. I COULD OPEN A DRAWER AND KNOW EXACTLY WHAT WAS INSIDE. EVERYTHING WAS BACK WHERE IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE, AND I WAS HOME.

WHEN THE NEW CROP APPLES BEGAN APPEARING IN THE FARMER’S MARKET IN THE FALL, I DECIDED TO MAKE A PIE. I REACHED FOR MY MOTHER’S RECIPE BOOKLET IN ITS PLACE ON THE SHELF NEXT TO THE SINK..BUT IT WASN’T THERE. I WENT THROUGH EVERY BOOKSHELF IN MY APARTMENT AND THEN DID IT AGAIN. I TORE THROUGH EVERY POSSIBLE PLACE IT COULD HAVE GOTTEN MISPLACED WHEN I MOVED BACK IN. I CALLED THE OWNERS OF THE APARTMENT I RENTED. NO BOOKLET WITH OWLS ON THE COVER, ANYWHERE.

FOR WEEKS, I WAS OVERWHELMED BY THE SAME KIND OF SADNESS AND DESPAIR I FELT AFTER MY MOTHER’S DEATH. IT WAS AS IF SHE HAD DIED ALL OVER AGAIN.

I HAVE HALF A DOZEN PIE AND PASTRY COOKBOOKS, FILLED WITH PIECRUST RECIPES, BUT EVERY TIME I GOT THEM OUT AND MADE PLANS TO MAKE AN APPLE PIE, I COULDN’T DO IT. IT WAS TOO PAINFUL.

WHEN I FOUND MYSELF WRITING THIS SPEECH, KNOWING I WANTED TO TALK ABOUT THE POWER OF THAT LITTLE BOOKLET, HOW MY MOTHER WAS INSIDE IT AND SO WAS I SOMEHOW, IT OCCURRED TO ME THERE WAS ONLY ONE POSSIBLE ENDING ..I HAD TO MAKE AN APPLE PIE.

MY MOTHER AND I ALWAYS HAD A PRIVATE JOKE. WHENEVER WE ENCOUNTERED SOME ANNOYING, OVERZEALOUS UNDERLING TELLING PEOPLE WHERE THEY COULD AND COULDN’T GO OR WHERE THEY HAD TO STAND IN LINE, SHE WOULD NUDGE ME AND SAY, “HE’S ACTING IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY.”

WELL, I THOUGHT, IF I WERE ACTING IN MY OFFICIAL CAPACITY….

IT’S AMAZING WHAT YOU CAN MAKE YOURSELF DO ..FOR WORK..I’VE DARED TO TALK TO PRESIDENTS AND THE QUEEN OF ENGLAND..ALSO KILLERS WITH GUNS WHO WOULD HAPPILY HAVE KILLED ME. IF NOT FOR WORK, WHY WOULD I HAVE SPENT WEEKS SLEEPING IN A TENT IN THE SAUDI DESERT? IN MY PRIVATE LIFE, I’D RATHER JUST STAY HOME. I FIND MINGLING WITH STRANGERS AT PARTIES EXCRUCIATING.

CERTAINLY, IN THE NAME OF WORK, I COULD MAKE AN APPLE PIE..OR COULD I?

ON SATURDAY, OCTOBER 8, I BOUGHT APPLES..CORTLANDS, WINESAPS, AND MUTSUS.

AFTER CONSULTING SEVERAL COOKBOOKS, I PICKED A PIE CRUST RECIPE THAT RECOMMENDED USING HALF LARD AND HALF BUTTER. I HAD SPECIAL LEAF LARD FROM THE FARMER’S MARKET LEFT OVER FROM THE LAST TIME I’D GOTTEN EVERYTHING OUT TO MAKE AN APPLE PIE AND THEN, IN TEARS, PUT IT ALL AWAY AGAIN . IT WASN’T MY MOTHER’S RECIPE, BUT IT SEEMED WELL-EXPLAINED.

I MEASURED EVERYTHING: THE LARD, THE BUTTER, THE FLOUR, AND THE SALT. FOR ICE WATER, I SUBSTITUTED THE MILK MY MOTHER WOULD HAVE USED, BUT TO KEEP FROM THINKING ABOUT HER AND ABOUT MY LOST RECIPE BOOKLET, I LISTENED TO AN AUDIOBOOK WHILE I WORKED, A THRILLER.

IN A HALF HOUR OR SO, I HAD TWO ROUND DOUGH PATTIES IN PLASTIC WRAP READY FOR THE REFRIGERATOR. SO FAR SO GOOD.

THE NEXT DAY, AS MY PLANNED DIVERSION, I TURNED ON THE RADIO AND LISTENED TO THE NEWS BETWEEN FIVE AND SIX AS I CUT UP APPLES. MY MOTHER WOULD FLOUR A COUPLE OF PIECES OF WAXED PAPER AND ROLL OUT HER DOUGH WITH AN OLD, WOODEN ROLLING PIN THAT GLEAMED FROM ALL THE LARD THAT HAD SEASONED IT OVER THE YEARS. I HAVE A BIG PLASTIC MAT WITH CIRCLES ON IT SO I’LL KNOW HOW MUCH ROLLING I NEEDED TO DO USING THE FANCY, TEFLON-COATED METAL ROLLING PIN I’D BOUGHT BECAUSE, SUPPOSEDLY IT WAS NON-STICK…

AND I’VE GOT A GIANT SPATULA, AN IMPRESSIVE THING THE SIZE OF A MAGAZINE YOU SLIDE UNDER YOUR ROLLED-OUT PIE DOUGH SO THAT IT HAS A CHANCE OF GETTING TO THE PIE PAN WHOLE. MY MOTHER DIDN’T NEED ONE OF THOSE.

THE BOTTOM CRUST MADE IT JUST FINE. THE TOP CRUST NEEDED SOME PATCHING, AND MY PINCHED EDGES WERE ERRATIC AT BEST, BUT WHEN MY PIE JOINED A CHICKEN AND A SQUASH IN THE OVEN, IT LOOKED PRETTY GOOD. AS I SLID IT ONTO THE RACK, I TOOK A DEEP BREATH.

WHEN I CUT INTO IT LATER THAT NIGHT, IT WAS STILL WARM. I PUT VANILLA ICE CREAM ON IT AND TOOK A BITE. THE APPLES WERE LUSCIOUS.... SPICY AND SOFT, JUST SWEET ENOUGH. THE CRUST WAS FLAKY AND SHORT, MAYBE MY BEST ATTEMPT EVER BUT STILL, NOT AS GOOD AS MY MOTHER’S.

OF COURSE, THAT DIDN’T REALLY MATTER.

THERE, YOU CAN SEE MY PIE FOR YOURSELVES. I TOOK ITS PICTURE, AFTER I’D HAD A VERY BIG PIECE… (photo projected on large screen)

WHAT MATTERS IS THAT WITHOUT MY LITTLE RECIPE BOOK WITH THE OWLS ON IT, I MANAGED TO MAKE AN APPLE PIE. I DID IT..AND I THINK I COULD DO IT AGAIN.


Saturday, November 5, 2011

HSN Cooks with Bon Appetit

I'm here at HSN in St. Pete and let me tell you, the place is going nuts! We are all getting ready for 24 hours of cooking and there is much to do. Emeril's team is cooking up a storm down the hall from Cat Cora's folks getting her products ready. Todd English is here, too and the whole building smells delicious. Everywhere you look there are pots, pans, small appliances, knives and food, food, food!

Tune in during the 1am EST hour to see Bon Appetit's tips for the best Thanksgiving ever.

Then in the morning, check out the following hours: 9am, 10am, noon, 3pm, 6pm, 8pm and 11pm

Monday, October 31, 2011

Come Join Bon Appetit for HSN Cooks Holiday Event This Sunday 11/6

I will be hanging out with Emeril, Cat Cora, Todd English, Ingrid Hoffman and others this weekend down at HSN. All day and night Sunday (and if you know HSN you know that means midnight to midnight) we will be bringing you non-stop cooking shows with all sorts of great food, pots, pans, appliances and always entertaining chit-chat.

Bon Appetit magazine will make your Thanksgiving more delicious and easier than ever. Call in! Schedule may change, but look for me during the following hours: 1am, 9am, 10am, noon, 3pm, 6pm, 8pm and 11pm (No, I wont be sleeping that day!)


Come chat with me at 12:15EST Today!

Tune into Martha Stewart Living Radio, SiriusXM Channel 110 at 12:15 EST to chat about Last Minute Spook-tacular Halloween Treats. Call in! We’d love to hear your questions and ideas. 866-675-6675......I've got some great ideas for you and would love to hear yours.

On a sad note, Im in western MA and have no electricity and the media has cancelled Halloween because of the natural disaster with the snow. There are still 500,000 without electricity. This is so sad!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Am I a Fool?

I've been called worse thing, for sure. And in this case a Fool is a luscious combination of cream and fruit, so what's not to love?

Tune into Everyday Food the radio show on Martha Stewart Living Radio’s SiriusXM Satellite Radio channel 110 Tuesday August 23rd at 11:15 EST to talk about Fruit Fools. How to make 'em, serve 'em, enjoy 'em and come up with new ones!

Here is a pic of a Gooseberry Fool that I made....tune in to find out how to make it! The big hint is the pic above....it starts by being inspired by fabulous ripe fruit (these were growing in neighbor's garden).