Taste of the Town
Golden memories of "Silver Palate"
Twenty-some years ago, I was visiting a friend in New York City. We were strolling down Columbus Avenue when I stopped dead in my tracks...
Seattle Times restaurant critic
Leson on KPLU
Seattle Times restaurant critic Nancy Leson's commentaries on food and restaurants air on KPLU-FM (88.5) at
5:30 a.m., 7:30 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Wednesdays, and at 8:30 a.m. Saturdays. (This week's topic: "Whole foods" — spit-roasting lamb.)
Twenty-some years ago, I was visiting a friend in New York City. We were strolling down Columbus Avenue when I stopped dead in my tracks. "Oh, my God!" I screamed. "It's the Silver Palate!"
"The Silver what?" she said, as I dragged her into a tiny specialty-foods shop, passing a stack of my favorite cookbooks on my way to the counter. "Excuse me," I asked the girl behind it, "Are Sheila and Julee around?" "Sorry, they just left," she said. I was devastated.
Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso were my kitchen girlfriends: the ones who knew so much more than I did about cooking, baking and throwing a party. They were the women who wrote the book that turned me on to "gourmet" ingredients like chevre cheese and pesto, and their recipes became not only my favorite recipes but the go-to dishes for every one of my closest friends. And now The "Silver Palate" has been released in a 25th anniversary edition, 2.3 million copies later.
The first time I met "the girls" (and that's how I thought of them), I was sitting in my pal JoAnn's house in Anchorage, Alaska, circa 1983, moaning over a buttery slice of orange bundt cake made with shocking hits of fresh orange. When I begged her for the recipe, she handed me a book that became — and still remains — the most heavily splattered cookbook in my vast collection.
Thumbing through my old "Silver Palate Cookbook" is the culinary equivalent of looking though my high-school yearbook. And it's an exercise that evokes memories every bit as powerful.
Meet the authors
Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso will appear at a Cooks and Books event from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. May 22 at Kathy Casey Food Studios, 5130 Ballard Ave. N.W. Casey will prepare the appetizers and cocktails for the event. Reservations, at $47.50 per person: 206- 632-2419. Books will be available for purchase and signing
There, on Page 76, is the recipe for Spicy Sesame Noodles with homemade sesame mayonnaise — my potluck special throughout the 1980s. And there on the same page is the pasta that said "summer" to me the first time I tasted it, and says so every summer since: Linguine with Tomatoes and Basil made with fresh ripe tomatoes, simply tossed with basil, linguine and (ooooh, baby) a pound of brie.
I can still recall making Chicken Liver Pâté with Green Peppercorns (Page 25) for my first grown-up dinner party. I was house-sitting at the time, thrilled to have at my disposal a gourmet kitchen, a big dining-room table and all the proper accoutrements (China! Wine glasses! A Cuisinart, so I could "process until smooth"!). Having packed my "Silver Palate" along with my toothbrush, I (shhhh) invited a dozen friends over for a feast. That cognac-laced pâté — scrumptious! — was the first course.
Leson on KPLU
Seattle Times restaurant critic Nancy Leson's commentaries on food and restaurants air on KPLU-FM (88.5) at 5:30 a.m., 7:30 a.m. and 4:44 p.m. Wednesdays, and at 8:30 a.m. Saturdays. (This week's topic: "Whole foods" — spit-roasting lamb.)
On a visit to Cannon Beach in 1988, I recall stopping into a little bistro for lunch and ordering a slice of apple pie. It was not only delicious but familiar-tasting. Sure enough, it was the "Silver Palate" recipe for Sour-Cream Apple Pie — its crust flavored with apple cider, as directed on Page 272.
And who would have guessed, when I'd made that pie for the first time, that somewhere out there slicing apples for Cornbread-Sausage Stuffing with Apples (Page 96) was the man who would one day be my husband? A man who insists, to this day, that "It wouldn't be Thanksgiving" without that recipe.
Over the years I've amassed a collection of "Silver Palate" cookbooks, including their seminal tome "The New Basics," the book I refer to as the "Joy of Cooking" of my generation. I remember the day I bought that honker after waiting in line at Sur La Table with a cast of thousands to have my "old friend" Julee Rosso sign it. "I'll come to dinner any time!" she wrote, in a hand almost as pretty as she was. And somehow, I believed she would.
As if seeing Julee in the flesh weren't joy enough, my biggest "Silver Palate" moment came in 1997 when, as a fledgling food writer, I was invited to — be still, my beating heart! — interview Sheila Lukins over coffee during a publicity tour for her "Sheila Lukins U.S.A. Cookbook. "
But at the last minute, a call came from an assistant telling me that Sheila was feeling under the weather, having eaten a few too many bad oysters while out on the town the night before. I was crushed. Crushed! Then she added, "Would it be OK if you come up to her room to interview her instead?"
And that's how I ended up in a suite in the Alexis Hotel, sitting cross-legged on a loveseat with the woman whose pen-and-ink drawings have illustrated the book that started it all.
"How do I look? Do I look like I'm sick?" Sheila asked, the way girlfriends always do, as we sat down to chat. She looked small, and thin, and as familiar to me as my own face in the mirror.
And for an hour, we talked: About the Lima Bean Festival profiled in her book (held in West Cape May , N.J., my old stomping ground). About the day, years before, when I stopped into the Silver Palate and she was unfortunately out. About sour cream apple pie and chicken liver pâté and how her books and recipes have become so familiar and important to me — just as they have to millions of others who think of the "Silver Palate girls" as their best friends in the kitchen.
Nancy Leson: 206-464-8838 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
More columns are available at seattletimes.com/nancyleson
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