I first began reading Amanda Hesser's articles in the New York Times Sunday Magazine. She was funny and smart and I wondered about the guy in her life she referred to as "Mr. Latte." There had to be a story behind it, and I was longing to learn what it was. Soon afterwards, her book, Cooking for Mr. Latte appeared in the bookstores. Of course I had to buy it, if only to learn more about Mr. Latte. The book was subtitled A Food Lover's Courtship, with Recipes, and it begins at the first blind date, all the way through to the wedding day. Mr. Latte was in fact the writer Tad Friend (himself a very funny and smart writer), who had a terrible habit of ordering a latte after dinner whenever they went out. I think Hesser eventually broke him of this habit.
I never read this book without wanting to cook every recipe in it - my copy is bristling with post-it notes on every chapter. Everything I've made has turned out perfectly; rigatoni in a white bolognese, oven-fried chicken, a caesar salad, meatloaf, and an intensely fragrant vanilla poundcake, made with vanilla sugar, vanilla extract, and vanilla beans. Some recipes are complicated, others are simple (scrambled eggs with truffle oil, hazelnut ice cream doused with espresso), but they all have a sort of luxuriousness to them, a generosity, even if it is as simple as a fried egg sandwich, the kind her father (long dead) used to make. This is food to share - with the people you love, with the people who love you - the kind of food that even at the end of a long day you find yourself making the time to put it all together. Hesser's voice is gentle and warm; she is like the best friend you always wanted to be, not inspiring envy so much as admiration and love.
In Hesser I found someone whose life is about food. She, as a food writer, is someone who cooks constantly, who breathes food the way the rest of us breathe air. And yet acknowledges that the effort it takes to cook can be a struggle; sometimes you are tired, or bored, or unhappy, or alone with no one else to cook for. And then, you find yourself in front of the stove, stirring scrambled eggs in melting butter, or at the greenmarket thinking about cherry tomatoes which become a salad when mixed with corn and peppers. I want to be the kind of person who finds Meyer lemons in season and turns them into a lemony pasta dish, borrows and adapts recipes from my friends, or is inspired by dishes I've had in restaurants.
If you read Hesser it must be apparent by now (as she says about one of her own friends) that I have long wished to model my life after hers. I think of her when I reach into the oven to flip browning oven-fried chicken thighs, toss a garlicky Caesar salad, slice into a dense, pebbly (as she describes it) poundcake that drowns me in a wave of vanilla. This is my life, even if these flights of culinary fancy take place like far-flung islands in the sea of frozen potstickers and hastily-thrown together dinners that is my ordinary existence. But I slip into the pages of her book and dream of the infinite possibilities within...