being single tastes like saffron cream sauce with leeks

When my father first became single after his split with my mom, he had his best friend from childhood, "The Doc," over our house. My father remains close with many of his friends from childhood, each of them with their particular nicknames. When I was still living in my childhood home, I’d asked my father why he called his friend John, "The Doc."

"I’ll tell you on your wedding day," he’d said, thinking then, and only then, would I be fit to hear the real meaning behind the moniker.

I’m pretty sure, though, that my mother spoiled it for him when she spilled the beans years later (but before my wedding day). "The Doc," she said to me, "You know, like M.D."


"MD stands for…"


"Muff Diver," my mother whispered. I didn’t get it. "That’s his thing," she said. "He likes doing that." "Kinda like his specialty. A fellowship, as it were."

entertaining stephanieklein 31

But on the night my father had The Doc over our house, I didn’t know this yet. I was in college, home for the weekend, and The Doc was coming over to commiserate.

I insisted on cooking as my father replayed events to John. I was at the sink rinsing grit off the inside layers of leeks, as the men sat behind me at a card table in the kitchen. I think we’d been waiting to get a kitchen table my mother liked, a table that never came.

My father rehashed with The Doc, repeating all the stories he’d already said to me, and then without warning, his face would redden, and he’d start to weep. I kept the water running and added a slip of butter to the pan.

Dad kept saying the same things, things I’d heard him say several times a day, repeating conversations, trying to convince the room of something it already knew. He was in mourning and needed that repetition; he had to get it all out, even if it took a few tries a day.

I remember what I made that night, using my mother’s care-worn pans and wooden spoon. She was gone, but her tools remained—the crap ones. We had precious little, but we’d make do. I made paparadelle with leeks, saffron, and cream. He needed the kind of comfort that comes from translucent strips of onion, softening with time. I remember, most of all, my father’s surprise when he took that first bite. Always hungry for Daddy’s approval, I was the same as an adult, delighting in his praise, but more than that, or maybe just as much, I remember feeling proud that even if for just a moment, I made him forget. I shifted his focus from pain to delight.

"Wow, Stephanie. This is really good." He said it in almost that backhanded way that implies, I never thought you were even capable of this. I didn’t care; I pleased him.

And I guess that’s what I try to do for everyone, just the way my mother had done. She’d spent days in the kitchen, composing sedar plates, "And it’s not even my religion!" And my father’s family would mostly move the food around on their plates, overly appreciative in their praise, but their money wasn’t were their mouths were. My sister and I would scrape plates of food into the trashcan as my mother surveyed the room, counting on her fingers which were the decafs. I think she wanted to cook her way into the family, the same way I want to cook love into mine.

I want to please Phil, trying to cook his favorites, but nothing seems to excite him. "Ooooh," I say as I paw my way through a new cookbook, "how good does this sound?" And he just shrugs, adding, "Eh."

"Here, then. Can you at least look through the book and dog ear the recipes you’d be psyched to eat?" But he always does it begrudgingly as if to humor me; really he couldn’t care less. How is it possible that I chose a man who could give a shit about food?

"It’s not that I don’t give a shit. It’s that I know what happens with you. You’ll spend—"

"’Forever cooking and planning, and all it will mean is that I’ll be left to do everything else.’ I know, Phil. You say it every time. But can’t you for once just have a little faith?"

"I’m just sayin,’ I’m happier with tomato sauce from a jar."

Dammit to hell. I’m not. Well, there is Rao’s, but still, it’s not about the taste. It’s about the process. The nostolgia in it, the fact that this was my childhood, all home-baked, with dog eared cookbooks, and conversations as we taste-tested our way through the years.

The fact is I enjoy cooking. I find a relief and calm in it, the gentle collapse of a tomato, caramelizing, de-glazing a pan, scraping up bits with a wooden spatula. It soothes me. It’s something he doesn’t get and that I get for free. It’s my comfort and my past and it makes me feel safe and taken care of. It’s how I want to make everyone else feel.

So, now I cook for me, and for the beans, and for anyone willing to come over and eat, hoping the warmth and pleasure of it all lifts them up, shifts their focus, and delights them, if only for a single moment.




  1. how lovely.

    I just saw the film ‘Julie/Julia’, I think you’d enjoy it!

    It makes me want to cook and blog and have a good relationship with my (hypothetical) husband :)

  2. I wish I even liked cooking – I SO wish. My husband is a total foodie. But I hate it. I even hate grocery shopping. Luckily he likes cooking!

  3. Phil’s lack of interest in home cooking must be really disappointing. Any thoughts of doing a post on what you two have in common? To keep up with the psych theme of your last post, if you’ve ever heard of motivational interviewing you know that the magic behind that technique is that when people argue a point they believe it more, to reduce the cognitive dissonance of representing that point and not the other and to resolve feelings of ambiguity. like when you want someone to stop doing something and you tell them why that behavior is so awful, it’s only human that they argue why it’s NOT awful, and in doing so they are taking the side that hey, my drinking/spending/gossiping/habit isn’t that bad. there’s many sides to any issue but writing about what keeps you two engaged can really help reinforce your appreciation and enjoyment of that.

  4. I bet Phil is happy in knowing that you want to please him. But I say ‘screw Phil’ (no offense Phil). Keep cooking for YOU and for “the beans, and for anyone willing to come over and eat….” and for others like your Dad. Maybe one day Phil will take a bite and notice “wow, this is really good.”

    Speaking of food, do you ever do work as a food photographer anymore?

    1. Hi Cat. As you know(and Uber pointed out) there are many sides to a story. I do in fact LOVE home cooked meals. I LOVE cooking. My issue is there is no compromise with Stephanie so I would rather not at all. Home cooking to her means starting at 9am for 3 hours going through cook books, 2 hours shopping most likely return with 50% of things that will go bad from non use, Returning and cooking which is typically 2-3 hours, when we eat it may be 15 minutes of trying to get the kids not to throw the food/today they hate it but yesterday they loved it debates, followed by my having to wash the enormous pile of dishes, etc. And mind you this meant the work on Stephanie’s “to do” list never got done and while she was doing all of this I was unable to do what I needed to do as I needed to be responsible for the kids. Not complaining here just giving a snapshot of what boils down to “I’d prefer you open a bottle of Rao’s sauce instead”.

        1. Can’t you ever see Phil’s point of view? He articulated it so well. Your inability to see the big picture and your need to satisfy all your needs immediately is driving him crazy. Phil – your an angel to stay with her.

  5. Now with one baby in college, once a week the darling daughters and I do the grocery shopping with our selected 4-5 recipes for crock pot or quick after-work/school throw-together. We have been picking a protein of the week (chicken, beef, tofu, eggs, cheeses)…and creating different dishes with it. We smell the spices and experiment with tofu. We debate the al-dente ness of our pasta. We compare preferences of juiciness and sauciness. We chop up the herbs from our little outside herb garden and, with Mozart or Handel or Vivaldi playing the background, we get all the juicy gossip of the day, soothe the various fettered brows, squabble over who has to make the salad, offer advice and gentle guidance, pat, fluff, relax, and officially start the process of settling in for the night.

  6. 3 Teens Mom… I’ve been reading Stephanie’s blog for several years now & I always love your comments! You seem like a wonderful parent & I love this comment. I have a ten-month-old daughter right now and I hope someday we can do the same thing. Thank you for sharing tidbits here and there; I love reading them as much as Stephanie’s posts!

  7. Hey SK, I didn’t know where to put this since you closed comments on your most recent post. Not to long ago in a combination of being ill and living through seven kinds of “life hell” I stressed out to the point where I developed a super stiff neck. I tried everything to find relief and nothing worked. A Pal of mine who is into more natural cures brought me by a pack of Salonpas patches. He put them on my neck and told me to keep them on for 6 hours. I scoffed but tried it. Several hours into it-HELLO F*&%@^G MAGIC!!!! You can pick them up at any Walgreens,Cvs etc…
    Maybe it might be worth a try. However if you are allergic to Chili peppers you can’t use this product. I have turned a ton of people on to them since all who report relief. Feel Better!

  8. Whatever you do, don’t buy the Thomas Keller Ad Hoc cookbook. Everything in it seems easily do-able and looks amazing. I was chopping up Valrhona the night I brought it home to make the best brownies ever. I bought that and Rose’s Heavenly Cakes right before I started this 1200 calorie a day diet and my life is a misery.

    Actually, maybe the Ad Hoc cookbook wouldn’t be bad. Everything is from scratch, but the dishes aren’t as composed and ridiculous as say, The French Laundry cookbook.

  9. I love this piece. My mother is a fantastic cook, and I was raised eating meals at the table, with the whole family, comforting and intimate. I never knew how much I truly loved to cook until I met my fiance. The first time I cooked for him he cried. He leaned over the island, beer in hand, and watched me, awe struck. He said that no one had ever cooked for him before (besides his mother & grandmothers). Now, a year later, he still leans over the island and watches, talks to me about his day, reads the newspaper to me….it’s beautiful. I wish you had that.

  10. Anyone have cookbook advice? I’m Jewish (and love Jewish food) and my husband is (newly) vegetarian.

    1. Mark Bittman–he has How to Cook Everything and How to Cook Everything Vegetarian–two great intro to cooking cookbooks. And he’s Jewish so there’s always a little bit of that in there. the Veganomicon is, you guessed it, vegan, and is great and has some Jewish food along with recipes from all over the place (like the Bittmans). Anything Joan Nathan for straight up Jewish.

  11. What a beautiful piece. I love how you pass from one scene to the next to show your philosophy of cooking, instead of just writing about it in the abstract.

  12. You know what I hate? When you really feel like you’ve cooked a good meal and people eat it and you have to practically beg for comments on it. We’ve been married 28 years and I keep saying, how is it, is it okay etc. I’ve had a gastric bypass and don’t eat everything I cook due to that. So I honestly don’t know how it tastes so I ask. You would think they know this and could comment. Noooo, here I am begging for answers. And hubby says, I’ll let you know if I don’t like it. WTF? After 28 years, that answer fucking pisses me off. So I only hear about it if it tastes like shit? If it’s good, no comment. That makes no damn sense at all.

    Oh, but when he barbeques on the grill, we must praise the king of BBQ.

    Okay, so maybe I’m having a bad day and this is a rant. Sorry, all I want is some appreciation for my cooking I guess. Hope you’re feeling better.

  13. You and Phil are just fooked! And yet you make it work. Kudos or what the heck?? You are determined to swim up-river.

  14. This exchange echoes exactly arguments I have with my husband, but about other things. Maybe it’s a male pattern, or maybe Phil and Aaron (my husband) have similar personalities, but one of the things we often stumble over in resolving our many conflicts is that he over-generalizes and exaggerates to make a point, and I nail him on the specifics to prove he’s wrong. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle. It may be that you don’t make him do the dishes anymore, and maybe it’s not actually a 7-8 hour process, but his overall point is probably true. My husband spends inordinate amounts of time on the internet, blogging, or working on music. I zone out to tv or get really into a book. The consequence is that stuff just doesn’t get done, and we’re each mad at the other for being selfish. We all have to sacrifice to make it work, because family life requires too much of us to allow spending that much time on the things we like to do. Bummer, I know, but reality.

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