My Latest Interview: Melissa Clark, NY Times Food Writer

Recently Melissa Clark, food writer, author of the NY Times column: A Good Appetite and 38 cookbooks came through town promoting her latest work Dinner: Changing the Game.

I was able to sit down with the recipe maven responsible for creating both sweet and savory dishes for the NY Times on a weekly basis along with helpful and anxiety-reducing cooking videos. You can find my interview on Madison Magazine’s website here: http://www.channel3000.com/madison-magazine/dining-and-drink/cookbook-helps-those-in-a-dinner-rut/424537389.

The following are conversation bits left out of the original article for the sake of word count.

Clark doesn’t plan dinner for her husband and 8-year-old daughter ahead of time. It’s usually 4 o’clock in the afternoon when she gets around to thinking about it. Her family’s dinner staple (which her daughter won’t eat) is pasta with anchovies, garlic and chili peppers.

Dinner is her test ground–the starting point for her recipes. If it’s good she’ll make it again, this time measuring and taking notes. Then she’ll make it a third time to test it. It’s a keeper when her hired taste-tester makes it and approves it.

Dining out is part of her research. She says she will always order the “weirdest thing on the menu” and says, “It’s like a dare” to see if it works.

“I want to push myself. I’m testing. I’m changing. I’m trying to learn. I’m just there looking for what’s good.”

As for those weekly column deadlines she’s managed for ten years now, I wondered if she has a system, a schedule, a plan for getting it done. If it’s become an effortless process.

She answered a resounding No. “It’s always an assault every time. Every. Single. Time. That moment of looking at the empty page and the freezing of the muscles.”

And always she questions “What do I have to say? What do I have to say about this? I said that before. No one wants to hear that.”

Then she begins to talk herself down and instructs simply that you have to fight it.

“You have to. You have deadlines. Deadlines are lifelines.”

Finally, and this is when I think I got an opening into the most relaxed version of Melissa Clark. I told her how I had watched a cooking video where after she shows us how to grill a whole fish, she pops the fish’s eyeball into her mouth and chews it with delight.

I told her that I had to stop myself from gagging and she threw her head back and laughed so hard, a wicked, childlike laugh. At that moment it was like we were two kids out of ear shot from the grown-ups and she had won the What’s grosser than gross? contest.

Last I asked her what comforts her when she’s ill and unable to enjoy food. It’s her husband’s hot toddy and she happily shared the recipe.

  • 1 shot bourbon or brandy
  • 1/4 fresh lemon
  • big glug of honey
  • nutmeg
  • boiling water to fill the mug

She will take this in bed along with her lap top and says she doesn’t miss a day of work.

 

 

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Have the Day You’re Going to Have

 

 

I just got home from the pediatrician’s office where I learned my child, my will-play- baseball-every-day-of-his-ten-year-old-life-son, does not have a hernia (which I feared) but has a pulled groin from, you guessed it, playing baseball this past weekend.

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radish greens, chives, ramps — all in season right now

Before checking him over, the young, female doctor describes to my fourth grader how she is going to perform a procedure on him wherein she will be feeling his testicles and scrotum for a hernia.

“Do you know what I’m talking about?” she asks him.  And when he gives her a look of complete ignorance, she looks at me and says, “Okay if I use lay terms?”

“Sure,” I say, shrinking in my seat, feeling terrible that I neglected to teach my middle child the basic terms related to his body.

“Balls.” she says quite clinically, “I’m going to be checking your balls.”  To which my son cracks up.  “And then I’ll have to feel around your ballsack while asking you to cough.”

On the drive home he says, “I knew what those words were, I just wanted to hear her say ‘balls’.”

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This was my morning, and I had a completely different story in mind to share with you.  A much more appropriate segue into the simple salad I’ve been enjoying the past few days.

But at this stage in my life, enjoying a salad, made with the young, tender greens that showed up in last week’s farm basket (CSA) somehow coincides with balls.  So be it.

I dressed our salad so simply using the Mustard-Shallot Vinaigrette recipe that I found online at The New York Times Cooking section.  I lightly poured it over the greens and then mixed it gently with my hands (ala April Bloomfield), ensuring every leaf got its fair share.

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 heaping teaspoons Dijon mustard ( I feel two regular teaspoons are more than enough.)
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil, more to taste

My tip is to combine these ingredients in a 2-cup glass measuring cup.  Add the shallot, vinegar and salt first — the vinegar will help dissolve the salt.  Then proceed with the remaining ingredients.  Pour into a jar with a tight-fitting lid and then give a shake over the sink (I like to play it safe — I do not want to have to clean up olive oil off the tile floor.)

One other note is that, as I also mentioned a while back, I once had the pleasure to sit in on a news conference with Alice Waters of California’s Chez Panisse restaurant https://thelittleblueapron.com/2014/03/31/the-pleasure-of-work-what-i-learned-from-alice-waters and learned that after washing and carefully drying her lettuces she spreads them out on a sheet pan and chills them in the refrigerator before dressing them.

That’s love.