Sunday, March 16, 2008


My aunt Bette is a badass. She was married to my uncle for about five minutes in the early '60's. They had long since divorced by the time I came around in the mid 70's, but remained friends in the weird way my family does after divorce. Where most couples hate each other and never want to see each other again, my family doesn't believe in such puffery. No, no! We divorce but keep in touch with gusto. Holidays are still kind of odd with everyone showing up in one location and then each going back to their respective homes, alone, after the festivities. It was nice, I suppose, not having to deal with step parents or siblings, but it can become a little confusing--especially when your grandmother breaks her hip and you all go to visit her in the hospital.

"This is Bob, my kids' father," said my grandmother to the nurse she befriended. "Oh, how nice to meet your husband!" the nurse exclaimed, extending her hand to my grandfather. "Oh no, we're divorced, but still friends." My grandmother explained and went on to introduce my father "and this is Ray, my granddaughters father and my daughter Kathy." The nurse asked "your husband?" to my mother. "Oh no, we're divorced but still friends." "Oh!" the nurse exclaimed looking to my aunt and uncle "let me guess. Divorced but still friends?" Bingo.

Bette lived in Manhattan the whole time I was growing up. I had no idea where or what Manhattan was. Afterall, Sex and the City wouldn't come out until years later and I was a self absorbed teenager who thought life revolved around my existence in San Diego. One Thanksgiving it was decided my family would descend upon Bette's cool, childless New York life with our San Diego suburban-ness. I was 13, in 8th grade, big into pegging the bottom of my pants, riding horses and writing notes to my friends. I could usually be found with a phone attached to my ear or nose in a book. My sister was 17, on the drill team, big into teasing her bangs and driving her convertible VW bug down to the tanning salon. I'm pretty sure my aunt took one look at us on her doorstep and wondered what the hell she was thinking.

Bette lived just outside Chelsea, on West 29th Street (in between 6th & 7th if any New Yorkers happen upon this post) and owned an entire floor of an old warehouse. She used half of it for her business and the other half for her residence. Years later, when I could actually take interest in someone older than me, I'd find out that she worked for Food & Wine, with Martha Stewart once (which apparently was more than enough) and as a food stylist. But at that time, if anyone asked me what she did, I'd say "my aunt Bette is an artist like my uncle" and then would stick my nose back into whatever book I was reading. A career as an artist, at that point to me, was normal. My father was an engineer, my mother a teacher--my aunt and uncle were artists, what was the big deal?

We hung out in the city for four days. We climbed to the top of the Statue of Liberty, rode the elevators to the top of the Empire State Building, met my grandmother's actress friend at the Plaza for tea, hit up Balducci's, an outdoor market, ate a pretzel on the street corner, caught the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and rode the subway. The sheer stimulus of the city was incredible. I lived in Suburban San Diego, on a quiet cul-de-sac where I could play four square with the neighbors and ride my bike without fear of getting hit by a car. The New York City streets were about as opposite as you could get from my world--taxis, cars, garbage trucks--you took your life into your hands any time you crossed a street. Instead of shopping at University Town Center where the only two story building at the time was Sears, we shopped in an eight story Macy's. The lights of Times Square were rivaled only by the sheer drama of being able to see the Empire State Building lit up at night from Bette's living room window.

Needless to say, my mind was opened after that trip. The life of an adult now seemed cool and not the tortured, psychosis inducing adulthood of our suburban parents and neighbors. You could have style, excitement and friends who enjoyed a seven course Thanksgiving meal. You could know people who were actresses and liked expensive places like the Plaza. You could find 13 year old children interesting, despite all the reasons their mother told you they weren't. If they could be such interesting people and find me interesting ... than maybe I could ... become something ... become someone?

I would dream about a life in New York from that point forward, I'd read Sassy magazine and think about Jane Pratt and all of her fun friends who lived in the city and wrote articles for girls my age. I'd think about shopping at Balducci's with my aunt and the miniature vegetables she used for photo shoots. I'd think of airy studios and busy New York streets and the possibility of something more.

While I have never lived in New York and honestly don't think I am anywhere cool enough or thick skinned enough to do so, I visit often and love it just as I did then. Bette is now retired, living in Mendocino where she hikes and takes long walks on the rocky Nothern California beaches. I thought of her today. As the days are leading up to Spring, I started craving something sweet and lemony and was reminded of the first dish she ever taught me to make. Easy, delicious and the perfect lazy Sunday morning breakfast, Bette taught me to make these Dutch Babies when I was living in Seattle. I was 22, had just graduated college and was working on becoming the "something" I had dreamed of years prior. I don't know if I'm necessarily there yet, but these pillowy Dutch Babies make me think I'm one step closer.

Bette's New York Dutch Babies

3T butter
3 eggs
3/4 c milk
3/4 c flour

1/2 of a lemon
1/2 c of raspberries
Dash of powdered sugar

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Place butter in a cast iron skillet. If you don't have a cast iron skillet, no worries, I've made these in a 9 inch pie tin too. Once the butter is in the skillet, place the skillet in the oven so the butter melts as the oven heats up.
In a mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, milk and flour together until well combined. By that time the butter should be completely melted--if it isn't, grab another cup of coffee and wait until it is. Grab the skillet from out of the oven, make sure you use a pot holder for goodness sakes, and dump your egg, milk and flour mixture into the melted butter. Place the skillet back into the oven, set the timer for 20 minutes. And in the words of Bette, "no more, no less and whatever you do, DON'T open the oven door until after 20 minutes." She always was a bit of a boss in the kitchen. Once the 20 minutes is up, make sure anyone else who lives in or, ahem, may be visiting your place in the morning is in the kitchen to watch you take this baby out of the oven. It puffs up into something pretty impressive. After you ooh and ahh, squeeze a bit of lemon juice over the top, scatter on a few berries and sift some powdered sugar on the top.

Read the Times and sip your coffee.
Or you can do what I think I'm about to ... curl up on the couch and watch a few episodes of Sex and the City ... but not before I make a quick call to Bette.

Hope you're having a lazy Sunday,


Living on the Spit said...

I will make these in honor of Bette. What a great Aunt to have.

Lys said...

OMG I love this story! Your Aunt Bette sounds amazing!!!! F&W - seriously?