The Pretzel Chicken Diaries

When I lived in Manhattan and later Mamaroneck, my ex-husband, a prominent food critic, and I used to hold regular dinner parties. Alan is a pretty good cook so he made the meal and I did the dishes. I was happy in my supporting role- what Katherine Wheelock of The New York Times called a “kitchen beta” in fact, she wrote a piece about this phenomenon (Feb.14, 2007) called He Cooks. She Stews. It’s Love and included Alan and me in the profiles of kitchen alpha/betas. When Alan and I broke up, I became a much better cook not just from necessity but also desire and I began hosting – and cooking – at my own dinner parties.

But now that I’ve moved to the North Fork and three of my local friends are great cooks, I’m losing my courage again.  (The three friends are Eberhard Muller late of Lutece and Le Bernardin and now of Satur Farms and Paula Croteau, who runs the Farmhouse Cooking School in Southold and Ursula Massoud at Paumanok Vineyards who might as well be a professional chef – she turns out amazing dinners for dozens of people on a regular basis.) And they all do it so effortlessly. Paula invited me and a friend over  for a casually fabulous lunch that she created in fifteen minutes and today Ursula did pretty much the same.

I just can’t keep up. And it’s been disastrous when I try. For example, the last time I had Eberhard and his wife Paulette to dinner I made them Pretzel Crusted Chicken from a recipe from Food & Wine. It was meant to be a bit of a joke (Eberhard is German- hence the pretzels) as well as a non-compete (Eberhard is also particularly brilliant at cooking fish, so I chose chicken.)  It turned out badly. The chicken was both overcooked and over-pretzeled. It’s something I’ve yet to get over. As have Eberhard and Paulette. In fact, it’s shorthand for disaster when the three of us talk about something, i.e., “Could this be another…pretzel chicken?” Who would have guessed, 100 miles from Manhattan, I’d end up (again) afraid to cook at my own dinner party?

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