Monday, April 19, 2010

In which Erika is interviewed by Evan Kleiman of KCRW's Good Food

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Today I had one of my most exciting food blogging experiences in the year and a half I've been writing this blog. I spent my lunch hour in the studios of KCRW, the Los Angeles National Public Radio station, talking about  my Grandma Rose's rugelach with the legendary Evan Kleiman, host of Good Food. Which, by the way, is my favorite radio show of all time.

Yes, I'm going to be on the RADIO! Talking about FOOD! On the RADIO! [dancing around the kitchen and darn glad 8-year-old son is asleep and everyone else is out]

 Me with Evan Kleiman in the KCRW studios at Santa Monica College

So how did this happen? Well, a few weeks back Evan and her producer Harriet spoke on a panel at the Food Blog Forum seminar here in Los Angeles. Harriet, brave girl, looked out at the audience of food bloggers and invited us to pitch her stories. Lots of time to fill, she and Evan pointed out. The wheels stories, food stories, which one should I tell? How will I pitch it?

I left the seminar and promptly forgot about it.

Cut to this weekend, when my mom and I stopped into Luna Garcia, a pottery studio in Venice with the most gor-gee-us tableware. My friend Sandy, who works there, introduced me to another shopper named Gillian, who works at Huckleberry (a fantastic bakery and cafe in northern Santa Monica) and is also...a producer at Good Food. And right there among the plates and platters, somewhat brazenly, I pitched her the story of my Grandma Rose's rugelach and gave her my card.

I thought Gillian was being incredibly polite, listening to my manic off-the-cuff pitch, but apparently she liked the story, because she pitched it to Harriet. And late last night, as I was getting back into work-week mode, I saw Gillian's email, asking if I could come to the studio today to be interviewed. I screamed so loud when I saw the email that my entire family came running (sorry). And then I called her back and said yes. Thank. You. Gillian.

 Grandma Rose's rugelach, almost the way she made them

The studio is in the basement of one of the main buildings at Santa Monica College, which fortunately is halfway between my house and my office. I walked over there at lunchtime with my notes and the photocopy of my grandmother's recipe in her handwriting (which I didn't need, but each made me feel better). I went into the studio, sat across the table from Evan, and talked into a big microphone. The whole thing lasted about five minutes.

I loved the way Evan set up and framed the conversation. "Make those family recipes with your elders before it's too late" was the jist of it, an angle I touched on in my original post about my Grandma Rose's rugelach but not the angle I was expecting her to take. We talked about the frustration of recreating an unwritten method, how these rugelach compare with what you'd find at Fred's or Canter's, and how my ineptitude with a rolling pin led me to call in reinforcements (my wonderful friend Anne, who visits from St. Louis once a year and knows her way around a piecrust). And was done. And I walked back to work. On a cloud.

I'll let you know as soon as the segment gets a date attached to it. I only wish I'd had time to make some rugelach before the interview - it's a bigger project than even I could manage at 9pm on a school night. But Evan, I promise: I'll deliver them as soon as you're back in town!

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For anyone who's interested, these are the notes I made for myself before the interview:

  • One of the few family recipes I have - unlike other food bloggers I know, I'm working from a blank slate - grew up on baked chicken with paprika, frozen vegetables
  • Great-great-grandparents were bakers in Smolensk, Russia
  • Great-grandmother Bessie never cooked, hated housework, ignored her children, but was a good baker
  • Grandma Rose didn't know how to cook when she got married - learned from her mother-in-law so her new husband wouldn't starve - but kept a few family sweets recipes going - angel food cake, sponge cake, honey cake, rugelach
  • Would make rugelach a few times a year and send them to my aunt/uncle/cousins in California, give to my mom in Ziploc bags
  • The perpetual family diet (Grandma taught weight control classes in her basement): Lightened up the recipe by subbing OJ for sour cream
  • Mom put bags in freezer to keep from eating them so fast but we discovered they taste good frozen and defrost quickly when dunked in hot coffee
  • I made them with Grandma once, on her tiny kitchen table in Queens, under the LaGuardia flight path - but clearly I didn't pay enough attention
  • Took me years before I could look at the recipe in her handwriting
  • Ingredients only, no method
  • Dough very hard to work with - tried several times, no luck
  • Fear of rolling pins - everyone has a fatal flaw, mine is rolling out dough
  • Needed Anne, who grew up in Piecrust House (unlike me), to help get the dough under control
  • Still haven't managed to roll the dough as thin as Grandma did
  • But, on my best attempt, took a bite and started to cry
  • Sent them to my brother, mother, aunt/uncle, cousins - more tears reported
  • Working mom, two boys
  • Write about food and the people behind it - relationships, connections, love
  • Food is a way to connect, for me - e.g. Virgin America
  • My house growing up was always just the four of us at the table - love the fact that when I ask my boys to set the table, their first question is "How many?"
  • I'm a New Yorker who can't believe food grows on trees in her backyard
  • I feed my office (experiments and leftovers), send brownies to key business contacts
  • Feeding people makes me happy.


Linda@saltyseattle said...

So amazing, talented Miss E- of course they loved the pitch. The story from start to finish is seriously good memoir history from a great angle. Loved reading it.

Erika Kerekes said...

Yeah, and I didn't even get to the part about my great-grandmother Bessie and her sister running a whorehouse (ahem, I mean a "barber shop" with a very active back room) near the army base in Smolensk! Talk about good memoir...but I couldn't find a way to work it in.

Rita Anne Smith said...

That is absolutely amazing Erika - sometimes, I find myself taking a drive around the time Good Food comes on, so that I can have some peace and quiet and enjoy Evan's commentary on everything tasty.

Daniela Galarza said...

You're awesome!

TasteStopping said...

Oh my goodness, Erika, I love this story! You have truly touched me. I appreciate not only your big moment in the studio, but that you are so genuine as to provide your notes of preparation. That, my friend, is where the true heart of this post lies. The fact that you couldn't look at your grandmother's handwritten recipe...well, it speaks volumes about your relationship in one short statement.

Kudos to you! (In fact, it seems to be turning into quite a festive day, with all of the accolades coming your--and your son's--way.)

Thanks for sharing.


Mardi Michels said...

Congrats Erika! How exciting for you (and I totally would have been dancing around the kitchen too!!)

Kate @ Savour Fare said...

This is so cool! Congratulations!

Rachael Hutchings said...

How fun! I can't wait to hear the interview!

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