As an avid reader, I’m always on the look-out for some forgotten book that will completely blow me away. I always dream of finding something that I can press copies of into friend’s hands and say, “you have to read this… you’ll love it.” After someone on Twitter gushed about this book, I was compelled by their 140 character description to pick up a copy of Lillian Hellman and Peter Feibleman’s “Eating Together.” Divided into two halves, (“Hers,” and “His,”) each offers their own food-related memories and recipes.
My knowledge of Lillian Hellman is slim, other than the fact that she was Dashiel Hammet’s partner for over 30 years and that she wrote two great plays that I was aware of (“The Children’s Hour” and “The Little Foxe,”… but she wrote a lot more than that.) Reading her half of “Eating Together,” I wish I could have met this woman and had a few drinks with her. She sounds like a hell of a good time.
Hellman doesn’t mince words when it comes to her opinion on people and places. When referring to Mexico and the cuisine, Ms. Hellman states, “I’ve never had good food there.” Giving advice on throwing a dinner party, she says, “Start the party with some champagne, but do not continue with champagne, because it is too expensive.” Recounting her 3rd birthday party, she says she got upset and ran into the corner, sitting there with the cat and crying, causing great distress to her mother. Offering advice that I think stands the test of time and is applicable to everyone, Hellman’s grandmother said, “Leave the child alone. We each have our own troubles and age has nothing to do with it. And leave the cat alone. He has his troubles. Why don’t you all go eat some ice cream?” This advice has become my mantra.
Peter Feibleman first met Lillian when he was 10 years old and they formed a friendship that remained until the day she died. Feibleman’s half of the book is sub-divided into three sections, “New Orleans” (his hometown,) “Spain” (where he spent many years, often with Hellman visiting,) and “Elsewhere.”
Feibleman’s recipes are often adapted from a family recipe, and topped with Hellman’s reactions to the meal. (She had something to say about every dish.) The copy of “Eating Together” that I bought had a small slip of paper tucked in-between two of the pages. The paper was more scrap than anything, clearly the part of a bigger thought, but the only part that’s readable on the scrap says “for Liz.”
I don’t know who Liz is, or why this particular gazpacho recipe was flagged. (Feibleman says there’s as many gazpacho recipes in Spain as there are people.) So, wherever she is, I hope Liz enjoyed this basic, traditional gazpacho recipe.
Traditional Gazpacho Recipe
- 2 medium-sized cucumbers, peeled and chopped
- 5 medium-sized tomatoes, peeled and chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 green pepper, coarsely chopped
- 1 red pepper, coarsely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic
- 4 cups French bread, crusts removed (Jill left the crusts on)
- 4 cups tomato juice
- ¼ cup red wine vinegar
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
Puree cucumbers, tomatoes, onion, peppers, garlic, bread, vinegar and tomato juice in a blender until smooth. Pour puree into a bowl. Whisk in olive oil and chill thoroughly before serving. Garnish with croutons and additional minced vegetables.
Both halves of “Eating Together” have the tone of two life-long friends sharing stories and memories about each other and their adventures. While they’re not always flattering, they’re honest and you clearly get the sense that there’s love between the two of them. Lillian Hellman died shortly after completing her half of the book, her last words to Feibleman being, “This is the worst case of writer’s block I’ve ever had in my life.” At the memorial service, all he could say was, “here lies a lady with writer’s block.” However, as “Eating Together” clearly shows, Hellman had many more stories to tell. Too bad there isn’t a follow-up.
All photos by Jill Chen.
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