Dirty dishes in sink
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I can’t cook like Nora Ephron

by Lynnette Ramirez

As a longtime fan of the late great Nora Ephron, the one thing that never really resonated with me was her love of cooking. I understand admiration for a person doesn’t mean you need to love or even understand everything about them.

After finishing her novel Heartburn, included in the recently released The Most of Nora Ephron, I started thinking about why I don’t cook more often. The heroine in Heartburn, Rachel Samstat, played by Meryl Streep in the film version, describes cooking as something that allows the mind to relax and think of nothing at all. Hiking does that for me too and occasionally during meditation I can evoke such a state.

Still I was envious that this book character could do it while cooking. It sounded so efficient to be able to have the benefit of shutting your mind off while preparing your dinner. Also, I had an unused Cuisinart food processor sitting on my kitchen counter. Often when pouring my morning coffee I felt guilty I never used the beauty of an appliance.

Inspired from the book, hungry from a long hike and digging the overcast weather, I set out to make potato and broccoli puree soup. Even though I rarely cook beyond scrambling eggs, I have been called a good cook once or twice, which is a lot considering what I categorize as real meals I only make once or twice a year. Usually when I cook these “real meals,” it’s only under the guise of entertaining. There are even a few family recipes that my brothers have decided I prepare best. Although, even after receiving such compliments there has never been any joy attached to the chore.

Perhaps I thought I was going about it all-wrong and that just casually cooking for myself would ignite some passion I didn’t know I had. Also, having a love for Nora Ephron and all her characters, I wanted to be able to not just cook well, but love cooking just like Rachel Samstat did.

I also have been known to pick travel destinations based on places characters in books I’ve read have traveled. So I admit, it’s one of my things to get carried away with an idea after reading a good book. This idea, unlike my travel experiences, was pretty much a disaster. When peeling the potatoes ends up being a favorite part, one can only expect it didn’t go so well.

First, my mind wasn’t shutting off. It was all over the place thinking about the episode I’d just watched of Orange Is the New Black, wondering why my cold went away so fast, rehashing how I ended up hiking so far, pondering my schedule next week and what I’d wear to holiday parties, and on and on and on. My mind was so busy not shutting off it apparently forgot to remind my fingers to be careful when pulling the blade from the mixing bowl. There I was a quarter of the way through making what was turning into a very elaborate soup concoction bleeding all over my kitchen sink. I say concoction because I decided l knew better than the recipe book and deviated away from the suggested preparation, another bad move.

My speedy mind decided I didn’t have time to deal properly with my bloody finger as the vegetable stock was already starting to boil and the onions and garlic were sizzling. So, I quickly recalled the one episode I’ve seen of Top Chef where a similar bloody kitchen nightmare happened and the competing chef wrapped a towel around his hand and kept working. And that’s what I did, sneaking a peek every so often to see if it bleed through. It didn’t. All was sanitary and I could finish the soup.

Dirty dishes

Photos courtesy of Lynnette Ramirez

I also should mention while I was in competitive mode to finish, not relaxing shut mind off mode, as I had desired, I also was stressed because I wasn’t cleaning as I was going. That’s another thing that isn’t Nora’s fault.

Led by my mother, you’re judged in my family by not only how well you cook but also how well you “clean as you cook.” So, that by the time you serve the food all that should be left to wash are the dishes on the table. Me, clean as I go means all will certainly burn, may be even the house. I let the mess run loose. At some point I surveyed the scene near the end and on top of a bloody finger and all ingredients on the verge of burning, my kitchen was a royal mess. Like a really giant mess that would make my family question my relation.

potato and broccoli puree soupThe insane part of all this is that in the end the soup actually tasted good. As I ate my soup in my dining room trying not to spy the disarray waiting for me in the kitchen, I thought about how sometimes in life we start off in a place of wanting to be something more than we are. Sometimes we surprise ourselves and we are great at it, we’re even better than the person or thing that inspired us.

It’s the other times, when we’re not so great at it and we make a big mess that we get stuck having to clean up that we learn just as much, if not more, about who we are, what we’re made of, what we really want and where we need to go next.

That’s the brilliant theme I took from Nora’s early, groundbreaking work about a woman going through divorce written during a decade when nobody, least of all a woman, was talking about the honest heartbreak of ending a marriage. It was a big life mess and Rachel Samstat, pregnant with her second child, was able to look back on her relationship as it crumbled, and observe what part she played in it, from ignoring early warning signs to deviating from her own “recipe” for true love. She even questioned if her being busy cooking too much could have been part of the reason for her husband’s infidelity. At least I won’t ever have to ask that question.

I can’t cook like Nora Ephron or the characters she created but I can be inspired by her words and someday hopefully write some of my own that make it to print or the big screen because she came first.

Lynnette Ramirez

About Lynnette Ramirez

Lynnette Ramirez is a producer and screenwriter. She considers herself a rarity in Hollywood being that she’s a native Los Angeleno, Latina and resides in Pasadena. She believes in the universe, woo hoo and that the glass must always be at least half full of wine during first dates, family gatherings and coed showers of any kind. Her favorite quote is “don’t be fancey, just get dancey.” Join her on twitter @lynnetteramirez

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