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Authors: Kate Jacobs

Comfort Food

BOOK: Comfort Food
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Table of Contents
The Friday Night Knitting Club
Publishers Since 1838
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, USA
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2Y3,
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Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Copyright © 2008 by Kathleen Jacobs
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or
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materials in violation of the author’s rights. Purchase only authorized editions.
Published simultaneously in Canada
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Jacobs, Kate, date.
Comfort food / Kate Jacobs.
p. cm.
eISBN : 978-1-4406-3065-1
1. Woman cooks—Fiction. 2. Cookery—Fiction. 3. Television programs—Fiction. I. Title.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
While the author has made every effort to provide accurate telephone numbers and Internet addresses at the time of publication, neither the publisher nor the author assumes any responsibility for errors, or for changes that occur after publication. Further, the publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.

bread and butter
Gus Simpson adored birthday cake.
Chocolate, coconut, lemon, strawberry, vanilla—she had a particular fondness for the classics. Even though she experimented with new flavors and frostings, drizzling with syrups and artfully arranging hibiscus petals, Gus more often took the retro route with piped-on flowers or a flash of candy sprinkles across the iced top. Because birthday cake was really about nostalgia,she knew, about reaching in and using the senses to remember one perfect childhood moment.
After twelve years as a host on the CookingChannel—and with three successful shows to her credit—Gus had made many desserts in her kitchen studios, from her creamy white chocolate mousse to her luscious peach torte, her gooey caramel apple cobbler and her decadent bourbon pecan pie. A “home cook” without culinary school training, she aimed to be warmly elegant without veering into the homespun: she strived to make her dishes feel complete without being complicated.
Still, birthday cake was something altogether different: one sweet slice fed the spirit as much as the stomach. And Gus relished that perfect triumph.
She loved celebrating so much that she threw birthday parties for her grown daughters, Aimee and Sabrina, for her neighbor and good friend Hannah, for her executive producer (and CookingChannel veep) Porter, and for her longtime culinary assistant who’d recently retired and moved to California.
But Gus didn’t stop there. She always made a big ta-da for the nation’s anniversary, which wasn’t so out of the ordinary for an American, and for December 25, which, again, wasn’t all that unusual for someone who’d been raised Catholic. Then she also made a fuss for saints Valentine and Pat-rick,for Lincoln, for Julia Child (culinary genius; August 15), Henry Fowle Durant (founder of her alma mater, Wellesley; February 22), and Isabella Mary Beeton (author of the famous
Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management
; March 12). No matter that those guests of honor were quite unavailableto attend, being dead and all.
Some hostesses love parties because they relish being the center of attention.Gus, on the other hand, found her greatest pleasure in creating a party world with a place for everyone and where she believed everyone would be made to feel special.
“Let me fix a little something,” Gus said to her daughters, their friends, her colleagues, her viewers. She truly loved the idea of taking care, of nurturingand nourishing. Especially those guests who found it hard to make their way in the crowd: Gus always looked out for those ones the most.
There was only one birthday that Gus was getting tired of organizing. Tired, really, of celebrating at all. Her own. Because in short order—March 25—Augusta Adelaide Simpson was turning fifty.
The problem, of course, was that she didn’t feel as old as all that. No, she felt more like a twenty-five-year-old (ignoring, as she often did, the logistical problem that her older daughter, Aimee, was twenty-seven and her younger, Sabrina, was twenty-five). And, as such, she found herself completely caught off-guard—genuinely surprised to add up the years—to find that she’d arrived at the half-century mark.
A half-century of Gus.
“You’ll want to use the best sherry you can afford when making a vinaigrette,” she had said on a recent show, before realizing the sherry was almost as old as she was.
“I could be bottled up and put on the shelf,” she’d said, laughing.
But a nagging dread had snuck up on her, and she resented it. Forty-six, forty-seven, forty-eight, even forty-nine—all those parties had been smashing.When she blew out her candles on last year’s cake—a carrot ginger with cinnamon cream cheese icing—and her producer, Porter, had shouted out, “Next year’s the big one!” she had laughed along with the crowd. And she felt fine about it. She really, really did. No, really. She did. She hadn’t scheduled a session of Botox, hadn’t begun wearing scarves to hide her neck. Fifty, she told herself, was no big deal. Until she woke up one morning and realized she hadn’t done a thing to plan. She, who never missed a chance to have a party. And that’s when she realized that she didn’t want to do anythingabout celebrating, either.
The problem, she reflected one morning while washing her tawny brown hair with color-enhancing shampoo, developed somewhere between working on the show schedule for the upcoming year and learning that the CookingChannelwas slashing the budget and ordering fewer episodes than usual.
“All the cable channels are losing market share,” Porter had explained. “We just have to ride it out.” He’d been in the TV business a long time, longer than Gus, and was enviably successful, a black man in the very white world of food TV. There were rumblings he was even going to be named head of programming. Gus’s trust in Porter was absolute.
Then the CookingChannel had hired a style consultant who informed Gus that “after a certain age” some ladies do well to add a few pounds to smooth out the face. (“You’re wonderfully slender but it wouldn’t hurt to fill in the lines, you know,” the stylist had said, not unkindly. “Good lighting can only work for so long.”) Finally, she’d met Sabrina for dinner one night and admired the couple at the table across from them, a gorgeous black-hairedyoung woman in a bubble-gum-pink dress accompanied by a frowningolder woman, her butterscotch hair in a medium-length swingy bob and clad in an oatmeal linen pantsuit. She was startled to realize the wall across from her was mirrored and the grumpy-faced diner was herself. “Are you okay, Mom?” Sabrina had said, signaling the waiter for more water. “You look as though you’re a little ill.”
Gus wasn’t young anymore.
At first she’d tucked this awareness away with her white shoes after Labor Day. But the truth refused to stay hidden, revealing itself when she spotted a wrinkle she’d never noticed or heard a crackle in her knees when she bent over to pull out a saucepan. Or when her longtime sous chef announced, in what seemed like out-of-the-blue fashion, that she was retiring. Which meant she’d reached retirement age. Alarming when you considered that it meant twelve long years had gone by since Gus had had her first CookingChannelshow,
The Lunch Bunch
, in 1994. That the young mom who’d twisted her shimmering butterscotch locks into a loose updo, tendrils escaping,had eschewed aprons, and whipped up easy, delicious dishes now, was a parent of girls with jobs and lives and kitchens of their own. Girls who had, sort of, become women.
They weren’t really grown-up. Not in the real sense. After all, she’d had two children by the time she was Sabrina’s age—and that was in addition to a husband, and a year of adventure in the Peace Corps. Aimee and Sabrina, on the other hand, were far from self-sufficient. Aimee seemed never to have anyone serious in her life, and Sabrina changed boyfriends with the seasons. It was funny, really, how today’s twelve-year-olds were far more sophisticated than any middle schoolers Gus remembered, and yet the twenty-five-year-oldsexisted in a state of suspended adolescence. She spent more time worryingabout them now than she probably ever had.
So it was easy enough to pop along with the day-to-day of life and not really think about aging in a personal way. But then small things—a word from a stranger, a glance in the mirror—startled her fantasy image. Suddenly,reluctantly, one fact became clear.
BOOK: Comfort Food
3.04Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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