My Dinner with Russ

So I went to dinner one Wednesday last August at Russ Parson’s house because he’s my cousin and I adore him, and because I was in LA and that’s where he lives. And also because he’s married to one of the best women I know; there is nobody in the world better to laugh with than Kathy Parsons. And also because his gorgeous daughter, Sarah, had just graduated from college, so she should get jewelry, which I needed to hand deliver so I could also hug. And also because Russ is the other writer in the family (How To Read A French Fry, great book, you should read it) and we can talk publishing, except we never do. Mostly with the Parsons, you just laugh a lot.

It was my turn to buy dinner because the last time we’d been together it had been Russ’s birthday and we were in New York and they took to me to Per Se where we had a seventeen-course meal that lasted six hours and will always be one of the best memories of my life, both for the food and for the company, plus Thomas Keller showed us around the kitchens and it was amazing, so I definitely owed them. But Russ is one of the great foodies of our time—the guy has James Beard medals strung around his kitchen like Christmas lights—so when I said, “Let me take you out to dinner,” and he said, “No, come here, I’ll cook,” I did not argue. Nor did I argue with the champagne he poured as soon as we got there so we could toast the fact that we were all together again, and then Sarah’s graduation, and then the finished Don’t Look Down, and then his deadline extension, and then the sunset, and then I forget what else, but we toasted it. And we sat around the big table in his backyard and ate–my God, we ate–goat cheese and peppers, pasta tossed with fresh tomatoes, gorgeous glistening fresh cucumber with cracked pepper, thick grilled steaks with garlic butter, and amazing homemade peach-almond ice cream, all under trees strung with tiny white lights. And while I am a snarky, cynical bitch, I have to tell you, there is nothing better than eating great food in a beautiful garden with wonderful people you love while the sun sets. And laughing. After a lot of good champagne.

And of course we talked about food. Well, sort of. Russ said the original artichoke was some kind of weapon. Bob said, “Did you ever wonder who first looked at a squid and said, ‘I could eat that’?” (Russ said, “Squid is good if it’s fresh and well-prepared,” but Russ never met a food he wouldn’t defend.) Sarah said that she’d met one of the survivors from that Alive! plane crash when she was in Brazil.

And then we started talking about Brazilian waxes.

This is probably where I should mention that my critique partner, the lovely Valerie Taylor, got me a Brazilian wax for Christmas last year. I opened up the envelope, and it was a gift certificate for our local spa for, yep, one Brazilian wax. I looked at her and said, “Thank you so much. WHY?” And she said, “Because I want to know what it’s like. You go find out and tell me.” So now it’s Christmas again and I still have this certificate because even if the technician buys me a drink and tells me I have nice eyes, I am not letting anybody do that to me. Probably.

So we’re talking about it—well, Kathy and Sarah and I are talking about it, Russ has his hands over his ears and is saying “Lalalalalalalalala” which shows you can have a lot of James Beard medals and be internationally famous and still be immature, and Bob is saying, “I don’t want to know what that is” which shows you can be a former Green Beret and know how to kill people with your little finger and still be a wuss—and Kathy says, “Who the hell thought that up anyway?”

And I realize it’s the Squid Question. At some point, somebody said, “You know what would be a good idea?” and then ran with it. And whether it remained squid or became calamari depended on what he did with it, but the point is, he ran with it.

Which leads me to my own life because, as my daughter once put it, “Mom, it’s always all about you.” Some of my Squid Questions have been unmitigated disasters—going platinum in college is not a good memory, and there was that time I dove into cold surf and had an asthma attack that almost killed me, and I definitely shouldn’t have shown my tattoo to my therapist—but I can’t honestly say I regret any of them. If nothing else, they made me smarter. (Haven’t see me as a platinum blonde lately, have you? And one of my tattoos is the Chinese symbol that means “to risk” which I did on impulse along with the one I’d come for, and it only occurred to me later that the flash at Mother’s Tattoos probably wasn’t done by anybody who actually reads Chinese, and that for all I know that symbol means “This Space For Rent” or “Skanky Ho.” Which is all part of the risk, so the symbol still works. But I digress.) And some were necessary disasters, like getting married at twenty-one which was really stupid, but if I hadn’t I wouldn’t have Mollie now, so it was a good thing. And then there are those that were brilliant. Quitting my teaching job when I was neck-deep in debt to go back to grad school and write romance novels was a dumb plan that turned out smart. Buying the ugliest house I’d ever seen because it was on the most beautiful land I’d ever seen is working out well. Collaborating with a writer of violent military thrillers was a terrible career move except that it resulted in the one of the best books I’ve ever done and you should see the one we’re working on now, as our agent says, “This is a riot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” (That’s a direct quote from her e-mail. Well, she’s our agent so she has to love us, but trust me, she’d tell us if she hated it.)

So I’m thinking Russ is right (well, Russ is usually right) and that the point isn’t that squid is intrinsically bad, that it’s that you take the risk and then concentrate on the execution and voila! calamari. So I think maybe it’s a good idea to periodically say “yes” to the Squid Questions with great enthusiasm and no regrets, even while all those about you are saying, “Are you out of your mind?” And that maybe I should go for that Brazilian wax. Not now, of course, but maybe some day.

And I should definitely always have dinner with the Parsons because those people know food and laughter and love.

And squid.

32 thoughts on “My Dinner with Russ

  1. I can’t shake the feeling that Brazilian waxed were invented by the same man who thought up high heels, pantyhose, and other abominations……………

  2. Holy crap, I love you! You are SO funny. This blog makes me want to run out and eat under trees covered in tiny white lights or get a tattoo or quit my job or get naked with Bob (oops, did I write that?) or do something! You’re SO DAMN FUNNY!

    Tell me you’ll never stop blogging…

  3. Thank you again and always for that – I’ve challenged all three of my blog readers to ask themselves The Squid Question today 😉

  4. I will never look at squid again without thinking about Brazilian Wax. Pass the champagne, please.

  5. Brazillians (waxes) aren’t all that bad. You just have to have a good tech that you trust and knows what they are doing. Now the Sphinx (use your imagination) is a different story. It took me a while to get use to that.

  6. I’m pretty sure the Brazilian was invented by actual Brazilians — when you’re wearing microfine dental floss on your nether bits, you don’t want pubic hair distracting from the show.

    It was popularized in New York by a set of Russian sisters. According to fashion magazines, the trend last year was then to re-decorate by gluing on rhinestones.

    Also, ouch.

  7. Considering that I view winter as an excuse to let my legs warm themselves via the wonders of my leftover monkey hair… ouch ouch ouch. Can’t even imagine why one would use wax to rip out hair anywhere on their body.
    Just ouch.
    Which is in direct contrast to the amount of joy I feel when I notice Jenny has a new blog installment…

  8. My mother in law was a stay at home mom. She kept her bathroom clean enough to perform open heart surgery. She never wore pants because “ladies don’t wear slacks.” For fun she organizes her closets by color and season. When she turned 60 she got a tattoo. Since then she’s gone tattoo crazy- over a dozen and still counting. When I feel wimpy I figure someone’s got to try the squid- and if she can so can I.

  9. Question from this unsophisticated Michigan Mama, what in the HECK is served during a 17 course meal? It sounds divine and a wonderful time, but I’m not worldly enough to envision a meal like that…

    Fellow blog readers…can anyone fill me in?

  10. And is no one going to post the obvious question? I noticed not one, but TWO references to Bob in this blog… so now he is going to family dinners, eh?! What else don’t we know?!! And I categorically refuse to eat anything that hangs on to the plate when you try to fork it into your mouth. I will ask the Squid Questions, but I will NOT eat squid–I don’t care WHAT kind of fancy name you come up with for them!! Again, you can ask the same question about lobster. I mean, who ever looked at one of these incredibly ugly sea bugs and thought “Oooo. I bet that would be tasty if I threw it alive and screaming into a pot of boiling water…”!! It does make one wonder….

  11. Warning: Do not let that girl named Sandy anywhere near wax. The woman’s going to be bald one day….

    That said, I’ll never look at rhinestones and not think about Squid and Brazilian waxes again. Pass more wine, please.

  12. Russ Parsons is one of the best food writers I have read. He makes things seem possible and his love of life and the seasons come through in his writing. How great to have him as your cousin. After the Trib bought the Times and has slowy decimated the old staff, it is great that Russ is still on board.

    Temple City, CA

  13. Hallo. Much love to the books.

    I don’t wonder as much about the weird things people eat as about the miraculous ones. The evolution of chocolate, for example.

    And I quietly submit Hanzi Smatter which has evidence of errors in tattoed translation. Alternately sad and hilarious.

  14. Tal,
    Noooooooooo! You dare bring up tentacle sex in a blog about the wonders of dining and waxing?! Oh wait, that was octopus. Sorry, folks. You never know the darkness in Tal’s mind. Which segues nicely to how Jen C has the fans with great imaginations ;-). At least when we’re drinking wine and watching sunsets….

    One more bottle, please.

  15. Tattoos tend to be addictive. I wanna know who was the first person to say “Hey, what happens to me if I eat that mushroom growing on a buffalo patty?” and “What happens when I lick the slime off of that lizard?”

  16. Tattoos? Squid? Brazillian waxes, ouch! The first thing I did after having power back on after 3 days is check Jenny’s blog. Soooo glad I did!

  17. I love the books, love the blog, and finally decided to add a comment – due to food talk (which would surprise no one who knows me!). I got “How to Read a French Fry” as a gift, and have really enjoyed learning about how food works. The writing informs in a way that demystifyies the magical processes by which raw materials become so much more than the sum of their parts. Also, I looked back at the book after seeing that Russ Parsons was related to my FAVORITE author, and found a recipe for holiday cut-out cookies from “Grandma Smith”, who I am guessing is one of the shared ancestors. I haven’t made them (no time, between the cranberry chutney and the cranberry apple tarts and, oh, yeah, WORK!), but I’ll have to try them the next time I make cut outs! And there are lots of other great recipes, too.

    My mom and I made the Chicken Marsala from the site last Christmas, and, as Peg Bracken fans (“The ‘I Hate to Cook’Book”), enjoyed the wording of the recipe as much as the result!

    For those who restrict their seasonal enjoyment to a single day, Merry Christmas, and to everyone else, Happy Holidays!

  18. Oh at last…another person who appreciates Festivus!!!! A holiday I celebrate with my beloved husband as often as I can manage… 😉

  19. I was once adventurous and had fried ‘Pulpo’ in some roadside cafe in Spain–YUK! Fried chopped octopus tentacles, swimming in grease, put me off for life!

    Waxing and tattoos? I can’t cope with all that pain!

    Happy Festivus and Merry Christmas

  20. As always, I’m astounded by the amount of humor that can be conveyed in one article of writing. Why is that anytime I try it I wind up giving myself away as the nerd I am?

    And I think the same person who saw squid and said “I wonder how that’ll taste” is probably first-cousins to the guy who saw a fish lay some eggs and thought “Now all I need is a cracker.”

    I, too, have done things that people always give me askance glances at. Like stating I will never return to college. But you know – your gut knows – when a decision is right and when it’s wrong.

  21. The natives are getting restless. I hope you are able to post something soon. The laughter from reading your entries keeps me going while waiting for your next title to be released.

  22. I seem to remember a poem about the artichoke clause of the Squid Question. *goes to look up* Ah. “Artichoke” by Henry Taylor, which ends “what mind, what hunger, first saw this as food.”

    Calvin also spoiled Hobbes’s breakfast cereal once by speculating aloud about cow’s milk. “Who was the guy who said, ‘I think I’ll squeeze these things and then drink whatever comes out!’?”

    Personally I wonder about cheese, which combines the milk question with the rotting-for-several-weeks. Even the best cheese would seem kind of…odd…as a taste if you weren’t familiar with the idea, and I’m guessing the first cheeses weren’t all that great. And does one even want to know how rennet got involved?

    P.S.: I’m in my 20s and live in LA, and I’m still kind of flabbergasted by the notion of trends in pubic hair dispersal. Surely the word “trend” implies a high degree of…exposure…eek. I think I’ll just keep brazilian waxes in the drawer in my mind labeled “Things Done By Nip/Tuck Characters” and leave it at that.

  23. Eyebrows, upper lip, chin — those are waxing necessities. Brazilian? No way am I letting anyone approach that area of my body with hot wax. I’d have to be unconscious and in need of life-saving surgery.

    Which is also how I feel about eating squid in any way, shape or form. 😉

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