Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Homemade Life: A happy family dinner

Family dinners like this aren't going to save civilization, but no one burst into tears, which is increasingly how I define success.

To go with last night's roasted chicken, I made Molly Wizenberg's potato salad. Actually, it was her late father Burg's recipe, made with mayonnaise, Ranch dressing, and dill. Burg is one of the great characters in her memoir: "He loved being a doctor. He loved Dixieland jazz. He loved the old Alfa Romeo Spider that sat in the driveway and never ran. He loved crossword puzzles, Dylan Thomas, and Gene Krupa banging on a drum kit on the stereo upstairs. He loved omelets and olives. . ."*

We liked Burg's potato salad. Mark was just happy I made potato salad at all. The potato salad I ate as a child was yellow from ballpark mustard and contained sweet pickle relish and if I have to eat potato salad, that's the potato salad I want to eat. But the truth is, I'm really not crazy for potato salad and hardly ever make it.
For dessert: Hoosier pie, which contains corn syrup, pecans and chocolate chips and is rich, super-sweet, and gooey. Nice! But you've probably eaten something almost exactly like this before -- it is often called Derby pie -- and perhaps even baked it. I have.

I'm jumping the gun with this assessment, but the magic of this book lies in the narrative not the recipes. All the dishes have been swell, but they're distinguished primarily by the fact that they played a role in Wizenberg's life. Which is the whole point; she's not claiming to be Ferran Adria or Julia Child. Her Hoosier pie is attached to a sad, sweet family story and it's about so much more than how it tastes. 

*Anyone can do this, and it's very fun: My father loved being a lawyer but loves being retired even more. He loves sappy country music and Leonard Cohen and a well-pruned peach tree. He loves Ian Rankin thrillers and road trips and insanely spicy Sichuan food, even though he was raised on overcooked meat and potatoes. . .
I could do that all day. You should try it.  


  1. Is the child in the photo required to eat a certain amount of food before he can start reading at the table? Is he only allowed to read between courses? Does he read out loud to the other family members? The food sounds and looks delicious, and the book sounds excellent. ANOTHER book to buy (or check out from the library)!

  2. I don't approve of reading at the dinner table, but sometimes I just can't fight it. He was so happy and cheerful last night it didn't seem like the time to enforce etiquette laws. He will occasionally tell us about a particularly hilarious Garfield, but no one listens.
    How about you? What are your reading-at-table policies?

  3. Melvil Dewey4/29/09, 2:42 PM

    We don't allow reading at the table, perhaps because it would only prolong the meal, and we're fast eaters. There are times, though, when I wish I was reading at the table,especially when I've got a really good book going, like right now: I'm reading Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center, by Daniel Okrent. Gripping. I want to go to Radio City Music Hall right now. But this is a food blog, not a reading blog, so I'll stop.

  4. okrent writes about food so i think it's okay to go there.
    a great book. especially like the part where hurley's saloon holds out and forces them to build rock center around his little saloon.
    also, the history of moma is fascinating.

  5. Wait, is that the Hurley's that is still there? Is it still there or am I hallucinating? I need to read this book.

  6. the building is still there, but it's no longer hurley's. there is a bar called hurley's over near broadway, but it's an impostor. the original hurley's closed about eight years ago, i think.
    anyway, melvil is correct about the book. it was a finalist for the pulitzer. should've won.