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Hello Chesterton, Bu-bye Portland

Today marks six months since I arrived at my new home of Chesterton, Indiana. Along with my daughter, Meriwether, and my dog, Matilda, I drove the 2,000 or so miles from Portland, Oregon to a small town about 40 miles east of Chicago. Portland was the city of my birth and my lifetime home, except for a few sojourns in places like Chicago and Istanbul.

Road Trip! Meriwether, Matilda and me.

My main reason for leaving home was that my son, Cory, had settled in Chesterton with his wife and daughter, moving there during the pandemic to be closer to Katie’s family. But soon a son was on the way and Cory wanted his side of the family to be better represented.

My other reason for leaving home was that I was sick at heart over what had become of Portland. As a writer, the subject of Portland had long been my bread and butter. I had written so many glowing accounts of my hometown and its denizens for the likes of People Magazine, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times that I was given an award from what was then the Portland Oregon Visitors Association (now Travel Portland) for bringing our town to the attention of a national audience.

But by the time I left, I barely recognized Portland as the place I had loved to brag about in my articles. Every time I drove downtown past boarded-up businesses and destroyed city landmarks, I was filled with anger at the feckless city officials who had looked the other way during our downtown’s ruin, and grave disappointment that a place with such promise and beauty had been allowed to collapse.

With no regrets, I left Portland behind and set my sights for Indiana.

Grandma with Octavia and Quintus

Now that six months have passed, I can report that I have never been happier. I’m delighted to be grandma to Octavia and Quintus, and although my surroundings are much different from the tall trees and snowy mountains I loved seeing in Portland, I’m impressed by the beauty of Northwest Indiana, especially the Indiana Dunes along Lake Michigan.

Also, it hasn’t been difficult to find new subjects for my writing. There are interesting stories everywhere and already I’ve profiled a local hiking enthusiast for AARP the Magazine and have been a contributing writer for the local newspaper, The Chesterton Tribune.  

I never imagined I would move away from Portland. But now, even while in the throes of my first Indiana winter, I’m sure glad I did.

Love Lessons from the Ginsburgs’ Kitchen

We all grieve in our own ways. After recovering from the initial shock of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death on September 18,  I started cooking.

Chef Supreme cookbook
Chef Supreme: Martin Ginsburg

Not from just any recipe, mind you. I resolved to sample recipes from Chef Supreme: Martin Ginsburg, a slim spiral-bound collection of recipes that I had purchased a year earlier at the U.S. Supreme Court’s gift shop. I figured that eating the same food prepared for the late justice by her beloved husband of 56 years, Martin, would nourish me emotionally as I adjusted to the nation’s loss of a great feminist icon.

Cooking is love

In the process, I learned more about cooking; more about Martin, who died in 2010; and more about marriage – at any rate, about a marriage that really worked, due in large part to Martin’s devotion to his wife, which he expressed through cooking.

I already had a general idea about the starring role Martin’s cooking played in the Ginsburg household. A few months after I bought the cookbook (and then filed it on a shelf), I attended Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the exhibition based on the eponymous book, at Philadelphia’s National Museum of American Jewish History. The final exhibit was a mock-up of a small kitchen that showcased a couple of very special artifacts: Martin’s whisk and his mortar and pestle, under glass.

Before making my selections from the 47 recipes in Chef Supreme: Martin Ginsburg, which were compiled by Martin’s fellow Supreme Court spouses and published in 2011 as a memorial to him, I sat down and read the book cover to cover. As cookbooks go, this one is truly funny, thanks to Martin’s wry editorial comments, as well as tasty memories recounted by friends and family and larded through the recipes.

Recipe #1: Quick Ratatouille

I started with a simple recipe, which is probably what Martin himself did when he confronted the fact that neither of the newlywed Ginsburgs could cook. He rightly judged himself to be the one most inclined to appreciate The Escoffier Cookbook, a wedding gift. Reportedly, he worked his way through all the recipes, as meticulous as the tax lawyer he was.

Quick Ratatouille
Quick Ratatouille

Quick Ratatouille was an easy win for me. With fresh produce seasoned with thyme, bay leaf and garlic, it was a delicious and satisfying meal. Emboldened by my success, I moved on to Shrimp in an Indian Manner. It was scrummy: whole shrimp cooked in a coconut milk sauce enlivened with onion, garlic, ginger, jalapeño, coriander and turmeric, and served over rice.

Shrimp curry
Shrimp in an Indian Manner

The selected recipes, whittled down from hundreds in his collection, indicate that Martin favored Indian, Italian, Chinese and French cuisine. As an acolyte of Escoffier, he of course enjoyed baking baguettes and mastering – while adding his own stamp — Pissaladière, a traditional recipe from Nice that features caramelized onions, anchovies and black olives baked on a pizza-like crust.

In his detailed notes, which go on for four pages, Martin offers a caveat to anyone attempting his Pissaladière recipe: “The above recipe may be only authentic mid-Manhattan, but on information, belief and ten years of testimony from innumerable diners – including my wife who is otherwise a confirmed anchovy hater—it is more than edible.”

My not-so-perfect baguette

Weighing in at five pages, Martin’s directions for baking The Perfect Baguette take the cake, or bread, for longest and most detailed recipe in the book. A note from a former law student of Martin’s, Leslie Karst, who had transcribed her professor’s telephoned instructions, reveals that this “perfect” recipe was the culmination of several years of his tinkering.

Alas, I should have tinkered a bit more myself. My version achieved the perfect texture and taste, but failed in the crunchy crust department. As directed, I got a cast iron skillet piping hot before slipping it into the oven in the narrow space between two racks. The three small baguettes were already settled on the top rack, sizzling atop a hot pizza stone. But I had neglected to check if the skillet would slide right in, and from there receive the three ice cubes that were ready to drop into the skillet. The resulting burst of steam would create the crunchy crust.

The skillet didn’t fit. Flustered, I replaced the hot skillet with one that fit — a smaller, room temperature skillet. In went the ice cubes, which melted, with no steam to speak of, faster than my dreams of a crunchy crust.  

Tarte Tatin is yummy

Tarte Tatin
Tarte Tatin

But the larger cast iron skillet came into play later when I used it  to bake the caramelized apple slices sheathed in flaky pastry known as Tarte Tatin. The skillet stood in for the specialized copper pan called for in the recipe.

My guess is that Martin’s collection of copperware was as extensive as James Beard’s; in a reminiscence of the Ginsburgs, Stephen Kanter, the emeritus dean of the Lewis & Clark Law School, wrote in my hometown newspaper, The Oregonian, that when the couple traveled to Portland to address graduates of the 1992 class, they eschewed the offer of luxury lodging in favor of a place with a kitchenette. Why? Martin had packed an assortment of his copper pots and pans. He didn’t want to miss any opportunity to be chief nurturer of Justice Ginsburg.

Dishing up love

In an essay about her father in Chef Supreme, Jane Ginsburg recalls that Martin continued to cook for his wife, even when illness robbed him of his own appetite and his ability to stand in the kitchen without pain.  Still, Jane wrote, it was a joy for him to ensure “that she ate well and with pleasure.”

I tried other recipes in the cookbook and in the future will try even more, especially after realizing that part of the fun is imagining Ruth taking a bite of whatever dish is sitting before me, and then imagining Martin beaming over her appreciation. Every day he dished up doses of true love for her. Every day she reflected that love back to him. It is by cooking with his recipes that I gain a glimpse of lofty ideals, both in cooking and in love.