brothercyst: James Salter

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

James Salter

Salter in the Guardian.

Is there a new novel? 'Oh yeah - there is, and it's going to be terrific. Maybe. It could be. I can't talk about it...'

Richard Ford's adulatory profile.

"Last Night," a short story--read this.

Download interview podcast.

1 comment:

NickAntosca said...

And here is the entire text of a March 18 article in the NY Times Magazine (I just paid $4.95 for it) about dinner parties that Salter and his wife throw:

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James Salter is better known for his spare, elegant stories about adultery than he is for his roast potatoes. But in the last 30 years, the award-winning author of ''A Sport and a Pastime'' has thrown about 1,500 dinner parties with his wife, Kay, a journalist and playwright. Together they have honed being hosts to an art. They share their knowledge in ''Life Is Meals: A Food Lover's Book of Days'' (Knopf), which is part memoir, part cookbook, with dashes of gastronomic and literary history, and which is organized by the days of a year. For example, for Jan. 15, the Salters advise picking the main guests and then choosing the others as complements, keeping in mind that a mix of couples and singles is better than perfect balance.

When the couple recently came to Los Angeles, their friends Maria Semple and George Meyer, both television writers (he most recently for ''The Simpsons'' and she for ''Arrested Development''), made the Salters the main guests and invited more than 30 complements, many of whom are writers. They used ''Life Is Meals'' as their inspiration and the source for recipes. Semple, never intimidated by cooking for a crowd, said that her high-ceilinged, 7,000-square-foot house, which was built for the basketball player Wilt Chamberlain, ''is champing at the bit for a party. It smiles when lots of people are here.''

On a rainy night, cocktails were served for about an hour -- as specified on the page for Jan. 17 -- in the living room, where a sunken seating area was warmed by a fireplace. The Salters, he a spry raconteur at the age of 81 and she a stylish and genteel presence decades his junior, greeted old friends and met others for the first time. Tender gravlax atop black bread and wheels of brie, the latter an homage to a brie-inspired love poem that James presented to Kay in a silver pillbox (see April 18), made the rounds as the guests mused about their own entertaining habits.

The sleight-of-hand-artist Ricky Jay and his wife, Chrisann Verges, think you should have only eight guests and prefer to entertain at brunch. The writer Susan Orlean says that she can be a ''maniac hostess,'' and she and her husband, John Gillespie Jr., embrace any excuse to have a party, even a novel one like serving only food purchased at Costco. Bruce Wagner, the novelist who met the Salters when he and James were nominated for a PEN/Faulkner award last year, said that he doesn't have the courage to entertain. And the novelist and screenwriter Merrill Markoe said, ''The book makes me think that the next time I am wondering what to have for dinner, I need to remind myself to think more like a French poet and less like a German shepherd.''

Both amateur cooks when they met, the Salters developed their passion for being hosts side by side (or, as James says, ''back to back'') in their kitchens in Aspen and Bridgehampton, L.I. Preparing dinners became a demarcation of the workday, as did a glass of wine, a martini and music. ''We never thought of entertaining as a dinner party,'' Kay recalled. ''It was just friends coming over. People were happy to have whatever we were making that night.'' These days, she prepares most of the desserts and he does most of the chopping. (''He has high standards and dimension requirements,'' she said.)

But this is not a chef and sous-chef relationship, James insists. Instead, it's a collaborative effort in which careful planning provides the freedom to spend more time with guests and less time in the kitchen. The back of an old envelope is the canvas on which James, a former Air Force fighter pilot, maps out the evening's schedule, including when certain courses should go into the oven, when guests should move to the dining room and a list of necessary serving pieces. Such preparation is crucial, he said, because ''timing is as essential in the kitchen as it is in the bedroom.''

The book chronicles tips like these as well as meals with literary friends. ''John Irving loves to cook,'' James said. ''It's his therapy after writing all day.'' For Salter, cooking is much simpler than writing: ''You can finish it every time and know whether or not it's good or bad right away. Writing is a continuing torment.''

The antidote is dinner with friends like Maria's father, the screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr. While the elder Semple made sure to repudiate the playing of Vivaldi at a vodka-fueled dinner party recounted in the Salters' book (Dec. 20), he did approve of this evening's main course: polpettone alla Toscana, an Italian meatloaf that the Salters first tasted when Semple made them the Marcella Hazan version at his apartment on Union Square.

The evening's hit was the rosti, a hearty Alpine potato dish with a crisp exterior and a soft, bacon-filled interior. (Semple, a vegetarian, cooks meat-free, but this evening was special.) ''When I walked into George and Maria's house and smelled bacon,'' said Darren Star, the creator of the TV show ''Sex and the City,'' ''I knew how much Maria must love Jim.''

Maria concurs. ''I'm so inspired by the book,'' she said. ''It's a throwback to a better time, when people didn't check Defamer every 15 minutes. It's a call to the right way to live and a reminder that throwing a dinner party is just as much an art as an act of generosity.'' As the book says, life is meals.

Polpettone Alla Toscana

2 ounces dried wild mushrooms

1 pound lean ground beef

1 tablespoon whole milk

One 2-inch cube white bread, crust removed

1 tablespoon finely chopped yellow onion

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons chopped prosciutto (unsmoked ham may be substituted)

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/4 teaspoon minced garlic

1 large egg yolk, lightly beaten

1/2 cup plain dry bread crumbs

1/4 cup tomato paste

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/3 cup dry white wine.

1. Soak the mushrooms in 2 cups of lukewarm water for at least 30 minutes.

2. In a large bowl, break up the beef with a fork. In a small bowl, combine the milk and bread and mash until creamy. Add to the large bowl along with the onion, salt, pepper, prosciutto, cheese and garlic. Mix by hand until combined; then mix in the egg yolk. Shape into a firm ball and then roll into a salamilike loaf, about 2 1/2 inches thick. Tap it with your palm to remove air bubbles. Spread the bread crumbs on a plate or baking sheet and roll the meatloaf in them to coat.

3. Drain the mushrooms, reserving the broth. Rinse and roughly chop the mushrooms and set aside. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh sieve lined with paper towels set over a medium bowl. Whisk the tomato paste into the broth and set aside.

4. In a heavy casserole just big enough to hold the meat, heat the butter and oil over medium heat. Once the butter's foam deflates, brown the meat on all sides. Add the wine and increase the heat to medium-high. Boil until the wine is reduced by half, turning the meat once or twice. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the reserved mushrooms and mushroom-tomato broth. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, turning the meat once or twice. Transfer the meat to a cutting board, tent with foil and let rest for 5 minutes. If the sauce seems too thin, boil until it thickens. Cut the meatloaf into slanted slices about 1/2 -inch thick. Pour a little sauce on a warm serving platter, arrange the meat slices on top and cover with the remaining sauce. Serves 4.

Rosti

1 1/2 pounds (about 3 medium) russet or Yukon gold potatoes, peeled

2/3 cup diced bacon

Salt

1/3 cup olive oil or lard.

1. Over a large bowl, coarsely grate the potatoes. Cover with water and stir vigorously to remove excess starch. Drain. Wipe the bowl dry.

2. Transfer half the potatoes to a kitchen towel, gather the ends together and twist as tightly as possible to remove water. Place in the bowl and repeat with the remaining potatoes. Add bacon and 1 teaspoon salt and mix well.

3. Place a 10-inch cast-iron skillet over medium heat. When the pan is hot, add 1/4 cup of the oil. When the oil is hot, add the potato mixture and toss to coat. Cover and cook until the bacon has cooked through, about 6 minutes. Gather the potatoes into a low, cakelike shape. Increase heat to high and cook, uncovered, until a golden crust forms underneath, 3 to 4 minutes more. Slide out onto a plate, crust side down.

4. Reduce heat to medium-high. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil and return rosti to the pan, crust side up (by flipping it into the pan with a spatula, much as you would a pancake). Cook until the underside is browned, about 8 minutes more. Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan. Serve warm. Serves 4. All recipes loosely adapted from ''Life Is Meals,'' by James and Kay Salter. A salad recipe can be found at nytimes.com/magazine.


Stacie Stukin is a writer based in Los Angeles who regularly contributes to The Los Angeles Times and Time magazine.