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Remembering Nora Ephron, the cook

Author filmmaker NorEphrdied Tuesday leukemiNew York. She was 71.| AP

Author and filmmaker Nora Ephron died Tuesday of leukemia in New York. She was 71.| AP

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Updated: July 29, 2012 4:59PM

The conversation surrounding Nora Ephron’s landmark book, Heartburn , always has centered on the book’s hilarious and exacting revenge on her two-timing famous ex (a delicious exercise, wasn’t it?). The thing that has been overlooked is that the writer/producer/director, who died Tuesday at age 71, must have been one hell of a cook.

Now, in these times — when everyone is obsessed with food — it’s easy to think, well, so what? But this was 1983, when the women’s movement was in full swing. There was a faction of feminists who wouldn’t have anything to do with any skillset that screamed female, and certainly cooking — like sewing, ironing or, God forbid, cleaning — fell into that category.

Yet in Heartburn, Ephron created Rachel Samstat, a cookbook writer who also does a local TV cooking show. Rachel was an independent, smart and witty woman who wasn’t ashamed to admit she loved food and cooking. That’s because Ephron could and did embrace anything female. She knew a true feminist didn’t have to turn into a mini-man. Ephron recognized that women have their own strengths. In Heartburn , and in her other writing and movies, Ephron captured, explored and celebrated the wonder of women.

Ephron’s Heartburn also was one of the first best-sellers that wove recipes in between the storyline. Frankly, as I remember it, at first I didn’t even think the recipes were real; that’s how foreign the idea of having cooking instructions within a work of fiction was.

But the more often I would re-read the book — this is no exaggeration, I have read it at least 30 times — the more it dawned on me that these recipes were as real as that homewrecker Thelma Rice’s “neck as long as an arm.”

Once I started experimenting with them, I realized those recipes also were really good. There’s the linguine alla cecca, potatoes Anna, Lillian Hellman’s pot roast. And, of course, the vinaigrette.

Let me explain about the vinaigrette: It has a pivotal supporting role in the book. Often, Rachel, in talking about the affair, can’t believe that her husband, Mark, would leave not only her, but the vinaigrette.

When she finally gives the instructions for the vinaigrette, it’s not until page 222 of the 223-page paperback. That revelation is a metaphor for Nora, er Rachel, finally accepting her marriage is over. Yet she knows that even though she’s incredibly hurt, her life isn’t over, and she has the strength to go on and flourish.

And just as we imagined Rachel would do, Ephron did indeed go on to have a full and satisfying life. She found love again, with author Nicholas Pileggi, whom she married in 1987. She continued to write — with candid wit and humor — about things that mattered to women. She continued to write — with candid wit and humor — about things that mattered to women. And about food. In her 2010 memoir,

I Remember Nothing, she included a list of what she would miss (and would not) when she died. Her husband and sons were on the first list. As was pie.

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