Two incidents led to my overly ambitious decision to publish a cookbook. First, after a few too many prickly pear margaritas, my friend Monica told me I should write one. Second, our editor, Tim Rogers, celebrated his 50th birthday. The first happened pre-COVID-19, back when my wife and I would pack our Oak Cliff bungalow with friends for cocktail-fueled, family-style dinners. The second happened in May, when I desperately wanted to gather with co-workers to toast Tim’s half-century but couldn’t figure out how to do so safely.
I decided that if I could pack a picnic basket with pre-wrapped sandwiches and hand pies and set it in the middle of a circle of socially distant lawn chairs on a driveway, everyone could help themselves, and we could share a meal and toast the birthday boy. It worked, and the kernel of an idea for a cookbook took root. After months of work, you can pre-order it today.
The recipes started to take shape with transportable versions of things I’d been cooking for years. Porcini-rubbed roast beef and horseradish cream were transformed into a sandwich, and beef picadillo chili was encased in an empanada. I developed batch versions of favorite cocktails that could be poured poolside with ease and turned my grandmother’s chocolate cake into slices that could be packed in a lunchbox and eaten by hand.
New recipes came from new ingredients made available through a new way of shopping. I went exclusively to smaller, more manageable markets and often ordered produce directly from local farms offering pickup or delivery, like Profound Foods and Bonton Farms. That meant I suddenly had access to Badger Flame beets, chanterelle mushrooms, and Rosa Bianca eggplants.
When it came to shooting all of the dishes, it was clear that a smaller crew was going to be better. So there was no food stylist hovering overhead with tweezers and a spray bottle of glycerin. We shot in my kitchen and on the concrete of my back patio. Most of the china is my great-grandmother’s, and the blue enamel mixing bowls are the ones my mom taught me to bake in. The gold-patterned rocks glass was a gift from a friend.
This was a lesson in DIY ingenuity. Let’s talk about the photograph that sits above this post. Our staff photographer, Elizabeth Lavin, took the photograph in a corner of my kitchen, in front of the cat food bin, where the natural light through the French doors was best. We didn’t have any backdrops on hand, so I found a black wrap dress in the back of my closet, and we hung it off a counter using liquor bottles as weights.
The baking tray is mine; the black ceramic bowl holding the plums is hers. The tarts are real. They were baked by me and taste-tested by Elizabeth. Somehow, with the help of D CEO’s art director, Hamilton Hedrick, and D Magazine’s dining critic, Eve Hill-Agnus, we made it all work and created a cookbook that’s pretty fabulous.
When you open your copy of the cookbook, please note that my portrait for the introduction was probably the biggest challenge of all. Five months into the pandemic, I was committed to growing out my gray. But things were looking a little rough as I transitioned from Lily Tomlin brunette to Jane Fonda silver. It took seven hours in stylist Kimmi Peacock’s salon for her to strip the color from my hair and blend the gray through.
I won’t be tempted to color my hair again. But I won’t stop entertaining. It has always been a labor of love. Now it’s even more precious.