heard a Southern drawl one morning on our little street in France. A lively, smiling young woman with beautiful long silver hair walked toward me and when I said bonjour, she asked if I was American. Darn, I’ll have to work on my accent. I answered yes, she said she lived up the street in the little house I had admired for years, and we introduced ourselves.
She said her name, I said my name, she repeated my name and exclaimed, “We did a job together years ago for Ruth Chris Steak House! You provided the illustrations, this was really long ago, do you remember? I was the PR person and called you in California from NYC to hire you for the art!”
We were both delighted.
Such a small world, two southern women becoming friends again after 15 years! Friends again for the 15 years to follow!
Anne was an incredible painter and could copy an Old Master in a day or two, or a Matisse, or whatever artist one asked for.
After being given cooking lessons as a wedding gift by her new husband, Jean Luc, she took to cooking like a vongola to spaghetti, and we had great times together before they moved to Nice. Two joint art expos at a local gallery, food planning, dinners, trying to work out the MOL (meaning of life, for those of you who’re not so good with acronyms).
Oh, we had some great kitchen moments.
But Anne is gone.
Jean-Luc, Anne’s husband, came by the other day and left me her cookbooks: South Indian vegetarian recipes, the rich southern cooking of New Orleans, where she was born, Ruth Reichl’s wonderful book that saved her after Gourmet Magazine folded and her job as Editor ended, and small, elegant books from various cuisines of France, all dog-eared at favorites. A jewel was a thick book of recipes from a couple who had compiled their life’s favorites into a very slick, 2-ring tome for Anne and Jean-Luc. Priceless.
I put the books on the couch and could not look at them for days.
When I finally was able to go through these treasures, I read each with tears blurring the words and memories of Anne in her kitchen or mine, both with white wine spritzes, and commenting on what either of us was cooking. Did it need a bit of salt or a pinch of pepperoncini or a bigger splash of Cognac?
The Cognac won so we could use a blowtorch to watch it flame.
We had such fun.
Anne told hilarious stories of life back in New Orleans, of her mother’s friends in New Orleans and how they would meet at their “hair parlor,” get their shampoo and curlers put in, and then swap gossip and “dry” at the bar next door, with gin and tonics.
Oh, Anne was full of stories of southern life, and tales of Mardi Gras, and the great chefs of New Orleans, and memorable etouffées, and shrimp gumbo, and crab beignets. Tales of her eccentric relatives would keep us both in hysterics as we stirred her potent chili or steamed clams for our favorite pasta.
Reading her cookbooks let it all loose. Memories of our rich moments. Remembering her infectious southern humor set off my tears once again.
Anne died this year of Lou Gehrig’s disease and none of us knew what was wrong. None of us saw that she was slipping away with this strange, incurable affliction.
Her husband was blindsided.
We were all blindsided.
It’s a terrible way to go — and this was fast.
But having her cookbooks in my kitchen has brought back her laughter, the pleasure at discovering the joy of cooking together, our poking fun at recipes that have a gazillion ingredients and taste so much better without most of them, our raucous moments of sending up our southern pronunciations of words like “manays” (mayonnaise) and “cobalt shrimp” (cold boiled shrimp).
We had such fun.
And although both of us preferred to improvise rather than follow a recipe, there are a few pages in her books with splotches of something — gravy, soy sauce, olive oil, chili sauce? She is in the pages.
I might cook from the books one day, but mostly I just want them near me in the kitchen.
I’ll leave one of her well-worn pages open on my counter every now and then. I will always have a little bit of Anne near me as I stir or chop or laugh over the day her mother’s best friend tipped over completely off the bar stool, curlers and all.
Oh, Anne could tell a story.