I don’t know how many serious eaters have heard of the brilliant, food-loving, and thought-provoking artist and writer Maira Kalman, but I’ve been a huge fan of hers for a long time now. So when I heard that she had recently co-written (with Barbara Scott-Goodman) and illustrated a cookbook, Cake, I knew I had to have her on Special Sauce.
Kalman worked with her late husband, Tibor, at the influential M & Co. design firm, where she worked on projects such as magazine covers and album design for David Byrne, and eventually took over the business. She’s also the author and/or illustrator of many books, including Beloved Dog, And the Pursuit of Happiness, and The Principles of Uncertainty, and she famously provided the art for a new edition of The Elements of Style.
As an artist, Kalman seeks to represent joyful, meaningful moments: “All comfort is temporary. We know that to be a fact. But when you understand that, then you can really allow yourself to look at those moments during the day, and they become very important, and they’re very shining moments…. And I think those are the happiest moments that people have, when you’re alone and a fleeting something happens, and you feel a sense of joy. So, I’m looking for those.”
Having established that she’s passionate on the subject of food, we talked about Kalman’s ideal setting for a meal:
“Room service breakfast in bed. Let’s start with the basics. Usually, I’ve spent time traveling a lot, and I order breakfast in bed because I want to see how they serve it and what the dishes are and what’s the tray in, what’s the napkin, and I photograph it, and I do drawings, and I’ve done pieces for magazines. So, it’s professional on my part. It’s professional research. But I adore all the trappings of table settings and what goes around it. I would like to work in a hotel. I worked as a maid in an Irish castle for a few weeks, and that was heaven. I can see doing that. I’d like to get a job in a hotel, serving somebody else breakfast.
In this episode, you’ll hear about what she’d serve for that hotel breakfast (in great detail), plus why she dislikes dinner parties and her special love for chairs that have been abandoned on the street.
Next week, we’ll get into Kalman’s new book, Cake, but this week’s conversation will provide plenty of sustenance in the meantime.
Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce, Serious Eats’ podcast about food and life. Every week on Special Sauce we talk to some of the leading lights of American culture, food folks and non-food folks alike.
Maira Kalman: I like the moments.
EL: And it’s only when we try to extend them that we get into trouble.
MK: Like a dinner party.
MK: Right? Who needs that? How long can you sit and make conversation with people? How long? I think it’s torture.
EL: This week, we are very excited to welcome artist, writer, illustrator, and above all, thinker and provocateur, Maira Kalman. Maira is the author of many books, including Beloved Dog, And the Pursuit of Happiness and The Principles of Uncertainty. She’s the illustrator of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules in hardcover, which I didn’t even know because I only have the soft covers.
MK: It’s after the fact.
EL: Yeah, exactly. And, the bestselling edition of the writers’ Bible, The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. Maira’s work is shown at the Julie Saul Gallery Manhattan and has been collected for various museum exhibits and shows all over the country. A lot of them I’ve seen by the way. She has co-written illustrated the new book Cake. Welcome to Special Sauce, that multi-talented, prolific, and apparently food-obsessed Maira Kalman.
MK: Thank you very much, good to be here.
EL: I’m going to start with the first question I ask everybody on Special Sauce which is, tell me about life at the Kalman family table growing up.
MK: Well, there are different Kalman family tables. As a child, there was a lot of silence. There were different parts of the family, but my immediate family, there was a lot of silence. It was a lot of tension. And so, maybe not the most glowing memories on Earth. I had a larger family, extended family in Israel, which was very boisterous and fantastic with all the women, wonderful cooks, wonderful bakers and a lot of celebration and a lot of getting together and just talking and talking and talking. So, there were two very distinct features of my childhood.
EL: Even in Israel, like in Tel Aviv?
MK: Right. Well, what happened was that we left Tel Aviv when I was four. So, New York was a different tone, and going back to visit the family was a much warmer, lovelier, livelier tone.
EL: Tell me about the Tel Aviv extended family meals. What were you eating?
MK: We were eating a mix of Eastern European cooking—schnitzels and heavy meat dishes, even in a place like Israel where it was hot so much of the time. But of course, that culture was brought from Belarus and those dishes were blintzes and all of those Jewish cooking. And then there was the Middle Eastern eggplant and salads and fish, the beautiful bounty of the Middle East. So, they intersected in this really wonderful way.
EL: And people were baking their old bread and everything?
MK: Everything, everything. But of course, as in life in the city, there’s a wonderful person down the block with the little bake shop. So, okay, we’ll make things a little bit easier. The women worked like beasts both in Belarus and in Israel. Shopping and cooking and slaving away really from morning till night but never complaining, which is also kind of amazing.
EL: In New York, your mother, was she serious about cooking?
MK: Well, I don’t know if serious is the right word, but we had to eat and somebody had to make it and it was my mother, of course. But we did go out to restaurants a lot, and that was another aspect of life. Because in Israel, nobody thought of going out to a restaurant. And here, there was the experience of finding out what a basket of rolls was like at Patricia Murphy’s. Or going to Chock Full o’Nuts, you’re going to fancy restaurants and really my ideal life. I’d live in a hotel and I go to restaurants every night. There’s nothing at home at all. But my mother was a wonderful cook. She made eight things very well and stuck to them.
EL: So, there was a rhythm to the meal plan at your house.
MK: There was a rhythm. I don’t know what there was. It happened. As a child, you don’t ask who’s making it, where’s it coming from, it just appears and there you are.
EL: What was the conversation like at that table?
MK: Well, in New York, the conversation as I said was not so much. My parents were not a happy couple. And so, that probably translated into a stiffer kind of situation. I always had a good sense of humor, so I was the funny jokester.
EL: You could break the mood.
MK: I could try to break the mood. I broke the mood for myself. I don’t know what everybody else was thinking. I don’t even want to go there. Let’s leave. This is going to be very dark show about sad memories.
EL: I have this picture in my mind of you, even as a child in New York, just madly sketching away and writing phrases in a notebook, even as a child, no matter what was going on around you. Is that what it was like or am I just conjuring that front out of nowhere?
MK: You’re good conjurer. I was a very outgoing happy-go-lucky child, and when I was about seven or eight, I thought I was going to be a writer. So, I didn’t have journals or sketchbooks, I just would sit down and write stories. I read Pippi Longstocking and I thought, “That’s it, I’m going to be a writer. This is my kind of job.” My sister was the artist, so we kind of divided our turf. And then when I became disenchanted with my writing, I thought, “Well, what would be a great narrative way to tell a story and to do it sort of in a funnier, happier way?” Saul Steinberg had a great influence on me at the time that I said, “You can really do cartoon and art and words and there’s a place to do this.”
EL: Right. For people who don’t know, Saul Steinberg is amazing graphic artist, I guess, or artist in general, and he did the famous New Yorker cover where everything beyond the Hudson was … I had that poster framed, I think in college.
MK: Right. I think we all did. So, the sense of humor and pathos in the work was really something that struck me. I said, “You don’t have to always be funny, and you can switch between being serious and being playful.” That really became … And of course, you know children’s books have that combination also. So, I started to paint more seriously and became an illustrator because I loved books and magazines and I thought, “This is a wonderful job to have. I’m not an artist, I’m an Illustrator.”
EL: Well, you may think you’re an illustrator. I kind of think you’re an artist and I think you’re a really wonderful writer. You’re almost writing haikus when you write. It’s interesting that you mentioned that combination of sort of optimism and pathos in Steinberg’s work, because I also think about that a lot in your work. There are moments like there’s that line that you wrote that I just read again, which is watching someone eat soup breaks your heart. That’s poetry, and it’s incredibly resonant. And there’s pathos there, obviously, but there’s also you’re hinting at the comfort that someone may be only getting temporarily from the soup.
MK: All comfort is temporary. We know that to be a fact. But when you understand that, then you can really allow yourself to look at those moments during the day and they become very important and they’re very shining moments. So, it’s not just a big passing mush. It’s really, what are the important moments? They can seem so insignificant, but they’re really splendid and give you … And I think those are the happiest moments that people have when you’re alone and a fleeting something happens, and you feel a sense of joy. So, I’m looking for those.
EL: Eric Dolphy was a beautiful clarinetist, flutist and he once said something about, “Once you hear some music, it’s over and it can never be recovered. That moment. That moment of just intense beauty.” That’s really what you’re talking about, right?
MK: Yeah, it is.
EL: It is by definition fleeting.
MK: It is fleeting. And then you have to understand that all of that, all of it is fleeting and embrace that.
EL: Yeah. You’ve said that food is a subject that you’re crazy about.
MK: Room service breakfast in bed. Let’s start with the basics. Usually, I’ve spent time traveling a lot and I order breakfast in bed because I want to see how they serve it and what the dishes are and what’s the tray in, what’s the napkin and I photograph it and I do drawings and I’ve done pieces for magazines. So, it’s professional on my part. It’s professional research. But I adore all the trappings of table settings and what goes around it. I would like to work in a hotel. I worked as a maid in an Irish castle for a few weeks, and that was Heaven. I can see doing that. I’d like to get a job in hotel, serving somebody else breakfast.
EL: Serving somebody else breakfast. What is on your … If you were to construct your perfect room service breakfast, what would it be?
MK: Well, the linen would be fantastically well starched. It would be beautiful. It would be white. It would be impeccable. And then there would be a beautiful pot of coffee in some kind of silver pitcher that keeps it hot. And then the food would be what? Croissants, lemon pound cake, maybe a few poached eggs.
EL: Perfectly poached eggs. I like this. This is a very unusual but-
MK: That’s so far so good.
EL: That’s delicious.
EL: Fruit. All right.
MK: I’m having to bring a bigger platter to my bed. Now, they’re rolling a cart in and saying, “Where should we put this?”
EL: And how do you take your coffee?
MK: With a splash of half and half.
EL: A splash half and half, no sugar.
EL: I watched the short promotional film you did about collaborating with Michael Pollan, illustrating the hardcover edition of Food Rules. You said that you had to explain to Michael and maybe you had to rationalize this, that Cheez Doodles played an important part in your family history.
MK: I was very worried that if he found out that I ate Cheez Doodles, the deal is off. But it was interesting because I wasn’t kidding. I thought, “Oh-oh, I better really tell him this whole Cheez Doodle thing.”
EL: What happened, because I had a similar experience with him. Because yeah, you’re like, “Yeah, Michael Pollan. He’s like the Chief Justice of the food police.”
MK: Hide the Snickers. Hide the Snickers bars. He’s a very sweet man. He’s forgiving and understanding. No, it wasn’t a problem.
EL: It wasn’t a problem.
MK: And I got to do a painting of a Cheez Doodle, so hurrah for that.
EL: You’ve also described food as being a lot of things. Celebratory, ritual, families fighting, memories.
MK: I say, of course, what else is there? I don’t mean what else is there besides food, but I think people think about food a tremendous amount of the time. We’re always trying to figure out what’s the next meal going to be.
EL: It’s funny but I had a radio show on WNYC a long time ago, and it was Nora Ephron and Calvin Trillin and Ruth Reichl and I said to Nora Ephron, “So, like what is food mean to you?” And she said, “Besides love?”
MK: Right, exactly. Yeah.
EL: It was like, and she was just like that’s so obvious to her, and she loved food too, obviously.
MK: She did, right.
EL: I can imagine you two must have known each other at least a little and hang out.
MK: A little bit.
EL: There was just like, “oh, yeah, dodo head, besides love?” I was like, “Let’s start there.” You posed a question in another one of your books which was, do dogs eat when they’re depressed? It’s because you love dogs. You probably even remember all the stuff I’m-
MK: I’m just like a different person sitting here.
EL: Oh, wait. No, no, no, it was really you. Because you love dogs and you just posed this question, made me laugh. And then I started thinking about our beagle who passed away a few years ago. Actually, I don’t think he was ever depressed. Because he had no reason to be depressed.
MK: Right. Why would he be? He’s a beagle.
EL: He was a beagle. He ate everything, and he was a genius beagle so he could nudge the chair next to the counter, so he could get things on top of the fridge, because he had to get to the counter and then do his dolphin thing and go up and over and get it. And then, this is what he would do that would make him definitely the recipient of MacArthur genius award is that he’d take the bagel, and he would go to precisely the center underneath our bed, so we couldn’t get it.
MK: Oh, I thought you were going to say that he would take the bagel and cut it in half and put cream cheese on it perfectly.
EL: Now that would be awesome. But, no.
MK: Wouldn’t that be great to imagine? But no, yeah.
EL: But he went to our bed and then to a place we couldn’t get to before he can eat the bagel.
MK: Right. A little privacy, please.
EL: Exactly. It’s just like I’m on the modified American plan at your house. So, he was never depressed. It’s like I just don’t know. Sometimes dogs look sad, but I think it’s just because of their eyes and their faces rather than their real emotion. I mean, they’re sad when you leave, obviously.
MK: They say they are.
EL: Right. Thanks.
MK: Who knows what they really are?
EL: You’ve also said, I do have to bring up all these things, you’re like, “Why is he bringing all this stuff up?” But you said, “I’d like to own a food cart and sell donuts and rubber bands.” And I didn’t know what donuts had to do with rubber bands.
MK: Just different objects of affection. The sort of the basic elements of life that you need. I had a little cart. I had a little stand where I sold rubber bands in Chinatown and I have pop up shops where I do sell the things-
MK: Yeah. I have pop up shops at McNally Jackson for instance.
EL: Uh-huh. That was right near at our old office, our Serious Eats office on Grand Street.
MK: This is on Prince Street. So, I like the entrepreneurial moments of collecting the things that seem really small and unimportant. Again, it’s really the same thing as collecting emotional moments for observing emotional moments that they’re like, oh, this is really … You probably really need a rubber band and you probably really need a donut and I will sell it to you and I will have money. Obviously not much money, but some money.
EL: Right. Really, I don’t know what the margins would be on rubber bands and-
MK: I think they’re steep, but we’ll look into it.
EL: We’ll look into it.
EL: You also want said that you wanted to, you’ve had fantasies … That this makes sense that you’re telling me about pop-ups, that you want to have a food truck or a food cart.
MK: Some kind of cart, yeah. Some kind of traveling. When the bookstores on Fifth Avenue, we were working at Barnes and Noble at the time, my late husband and I. One of the things that I wanted to do was push a cart of books through Central Park and he said, “That’s a little bit laborious. Why don’t we come up with something better?” So, he got in touch with the Strand, and there’s the three bookstores on Fifth Avenue across from the Pierre.
MK: Yeah. 59th.
EL: Right. Oh, from the plaza.
MK: Yes. So, 59th and 5th.
MK: That sense of interacting in a very quick, these short-lived experiences interactions, conversations, I like them a lot.
EL: You’re a big fan of moments. Aren’t you?
MK: I like the moments.
EL: It’s an interesting concept, because in a way you’ve said, and I agree when I read what you wrote that that’s all we have. It’s like it’s a series of moments, and it’s only when we try to extend them unnaturally that we get into trouble.
MK: Right. Like a dinner party.
MK: Right? Who needs that?
EL: You mean because it should just be a moment of eating a cookie.
MK: It’s too long. How long can you sit and make conversation with people? How long? I think it’s torture.
EL: And it’s totally unnatural. This what I try to tell my wife because she loves to throw dinner parties. I never really put my finger on it before, but I think you’ve hit on it. It’s just like they seem to go on a long time.
MK: Interminable. I also like to be in bed by nine, so that makes my dinner party life really …. No, I like to be in bed by eight.
EL: By eight?
MK: I like to. I’m not sleeping today, but by eight I’m thinking what’s the point?
EL: Are you an early-morning creative person?
MK: Yes. I’m very early morning walker in Central Park and then getting to work. I’m willing to live the morning hours, but the night hours make me very unhappy.
EL: You have said, “If you want to take me on a fantastic date, take me to a supermarket on a Saturday night.”
MK: You said it, let’s do it. The supermarket is a place of such endless interest both in terms of product design, typography, language. It’s just endlessly fantastic and there are always new products there, people are always trying to figure out how to package the next, I don’t know what.
MK: Sardines. But something, anything, everything, and it just I really love the endeavor of people trying to figure out how to make these products, how to sell you these products and there’s, from a place that doesn’t have much choice to a place that has ridiculous choice.
EL: You really love packages.
MK: I do. I collect packages and boxes and things. I think that they are an opportunity for photography and illustration. Again, the most wonderful phrases and sentences, the most ridiculous meaningless things that people think will interest you in buying the product. So, we’re all trying to do that with whatever it is that we’re doing. We’re trying to figure out what’s the best way to present this thing so that you might want it. And also, I just, I don’t know, I like the lighting, I like the music, which is often terrible. Sometimes they sell bouncing … They have other things they sell you like bouncing balls, which I always buy, or shoes. Not only shoes, flip flops maybe.
EL: T-shirts, flip flops, they’re definitely flip flops.
MK: It’s your whole life in one shop.
EL: Has anyone ever taken you up on that?
MK: We do that all the time.
EL: You really just go, and you hang?
MK: Of course, yeah. We also go to the Met, and I’ll only hang out in supermarkets. But I said the Metropolitan Museum happens to be another kind of supermarket actually.
EL: You’re an artist with so many talents. You work in so many different media. What inspires you? How do you decide what project to work on? Is it whatever comes your way or is it things that you initiate?
MK: At this point, I’m initiating most of the projects. So, if somebody contacts me and I like it and it’s interesting, I’ll respond. It’s always been a mix of those things. In the beginning, I had to take on more work than I may have wanted to just because you need to in the beginning. The only real, real driver is instinct. What else do you have? What’s interesting, what you think you love. People, I don’t want to work with people I don’t like. I don’t want to work with people who have ethical feelings different than mine.
MK: Values. Thank you. Values, senses of humor, kind. So, it’s a big decision to embark on a project. But at this point, the editors I work with, my agent, Charlotte Sheedy, they’re all people who I respect tremendously, and I can talk about what is this thing that I’m thinking about? What’s this next project?
EL: Yeah. It’s a wonderful place to get to and a lot of people don’t ever get there.
MK: That’s a shame, because it’s a really incredible place to be.
EL: Were there moments where you’re like, “I’m not going to get there. I’m sick of doing this work with people that I don’t really want to be working with.” Everyone obviously goes through periods like that.
MK: Right. In a daily kind of, “Oh is this working out, am I really liking this?” But in the bigger picture I don’t. I’ve never thought, “Oh, I should have.” Well, there is … I was going to say I should have been a ballerina. But now I’m dancing in a ballet. So, what can I tell you?
EL: Yeah. I want to hear about this, you’re doing dance project. I don’t know what to call it, a performance.
MK: Performance piece.
EL: Tell us about that.
MK: I was the duck in Isaac Mizrahi’s production of Peter and the Wolf at the Guggenheim, and the choreographer was John Heginbotham, who used to be a dancer for Mark Morris. So, we had been friends for quite a while and he said we should work on something together. And so, we created a piece that’s very impressionistic of the principles of uncertainty, which performed it BAM last fall, Jacob’s Pillow, we just came back from Bulgaria the big time.
EL: Wow. Does it make you nervous getting on stage and dancing?
MK: Yeah, if you call it dancing, that would be probably a stretch. I’m moving some and I’m speaking some, and I’m a presence in on the stage. But now we’re working on a new piece, he’s actually requiring me to do actual extended-
MK: … movements. Thank you very much, movements. So, I have to gulp. But I think that I’m nervous, but once I’m on the stage and if I can pray that I remember my lines and for one section I embroidered my lines onto my tunic, so there wouldn’t be any issue. But it’s an extraordinary adventure.
EL: And then especially for you who you claim in your books and you’ve drawn so many dancers that obviously dancers have held a special fascination for you for a very long time.
MK: I think that movement, everybody moves, and the way that the dance of people walking down the street is extraordinary. Which is a heroic, how do we all manage to walk down the street.
EL: Another moment in a book of yours, where you talk about coming upon a chair that somebody has thrown out is a gift when you’re walking in the city.
MK: And there are a lot more chairs that people have thrown out and sofas that people are thrown out than you’d ever imagine. I love chairs, and I think they’re also an endless source of interest. The design of them is just … I have a lot of books about chairs, and I love the idea that there is this fantastic broken old chair that’s on the street, it just speaks to me.
EL: I love that. So, did you and your late husband ever work together?
MK: Oh, we worked together all the time.
EL: So M & Co. was bo-
MK: There were people there who were real designers and I was very much behind the scenes, but we met in summer flunk-out class at NYU when we were just 19. So, we were together for 30 years, and the conversation started That day we met and didn’t end till he died. Our collaboration was vital for both of us.
EL: Wow. That’s a lot of moments in 30 years.
MK: That was a lot of moments, and kids that we made.
EL: And kids. Yeah, which is fantastic. I worked for a company called Fred Allan, and I don’t know if you remember, but Fred Seibert hired you at M & Co. to do the MTV logo, right?
MK: Wow. Was it the logo?
EL: I can’t remember if it was a logo or it was something else.
MK: And did it work out?
EL: Yes. No, there’s nothing. There’s no dirty laundry to be aired here.
MK: There could have been. But at any rate, that’s good to hear. Right.
EL: I also have, I think through whatever work we did, I have one of the M & CO. watches.
MK: You do? Which one do have? Do you know?
EL: The one with the, what’s happening with the numbers?
MK: The numbers are all in different places?
MK: Yeah, the Askew.
EL: So, tell people-
MK: My kids learned how to tell time on that clock.
EL: Describe that watch for our listeners.
MK: It’s a classic. The designs from M & Co., one of the things that we wanted to do was to do whatever we wanted to do, because that’s how we felt about things. I studied literature and Tibor studied history. We both plunged into design an illustration in that world with the naïveté, with an optimistic naïveté, why can’t we do whatever we want? So, we decided to design watches and one of them … They were Swiss made. They were very pristine, very elegant, very minimal.
MK: But we played with them and the numbers on one particular watch were in different positions, so all the numbers were scrambled. They weren’t consecutive. And you really understand that you don’t need them to be the numbers. It’s really the position. The one that’s in the permanent collection at MoMA is the 10 1 4, we took away all the numbers except for the 10 and the one and the four, which are in their proper positions. So, it was a beautiful exercise because both of us came from other countries and we both learned English and we both fell madly in love with all of the vernacular of the American culture, it was easy for us to not take anything for granted.
EL: What’s amazing about your work is it’s so thoughtful, but there’s nothing condescending about it. There’s nothing snobbish.
MK: The approach was never to be cynical, never to approach it from a superior point of view or an arrogant point of view. That the whole endeavor is meant to communicate and not to isolate anybody. My desire is to communicate with everybody. Children, adults, dogs, cats not so much. But that sense of we’re all in this together. I have a sense of humor. I can use the absurd in a way that you might not, but it’s not going to be antagonistic. It’s going to be inclusive, it’s going to be humanistic towards you. That’s how I’ve always felt. Like an empathy for mankind. Humankind.
EL: Yeah. That’s really the other strand, is the sense of empathy. You really do put yourself in other people’s shoes.
MK: And I feel sorry for everybody, including myself. We know our phrase; our family phrase is poor. At the end of every day we just go, “Poor everybody. Good night.”
EL: I love that.
MK: It’s a nice way to end the day, isn’t it?
EL: Poor everybody. Good night. Okay.
EL: Now it’s time for the Special Sauce all you can answer buffet. You don’t have to worry. There’s no time and imagine we’re just to them M & Co. watch. So, it’s just a series of moments. It’s just a series of moments.
MK: I love this. Is this like a lightning round?
EL: Yeah, it’s a little bit like a lightning round.
MK: Which is exciting.
EL: Who’s at your last supper? No family allowed. Dead, living, doesn’t matter.
MK: Marcel Proust.
EL: Okay. Marcel Proust. And so, you’d obviously-
MK: Or more people?
EL: Yeah. Four people all together.
MK: Okay. Gertrude Stein, Marcel Proust, Kafka and am I the fourth? Enemy.
MK: And another person?
EL: Yeah, you get another person, but this is quite a table.
EL: It’s going to be intense.
MK: I know.
EL: It is not-
MK: I probably believe I will go into the kitchen and not talk to them for the rest of the evening. I’ll just serve them. Kafka wanted to be a waiter.
EL: All right. Good. You have one more person.
MK: You know why he wanted to be a waiter?
MK: Because he wanted to overhear the fleeting conversations of people but being visible. Which I think that’s genius.
EL: Yes, it gets back to moments.
MK: Yeah, that’s what I want to do.
EL: There’s one more person that can be at the table.
MK: One more person.
EL: Gertrude Stein, Kafka, I love this, Proust.
MK: Marcel Proust. My grandmother.
EL: No, no family allowed.
MK: Oh, no family allowed.
EL: Yeah. It could a musician.
MK: A musician. Okay Bach.
EL: Bach. Got it. All right. What are you eating?
MK: Oh, God, what are we eating. Pasta.
EL: Okay. I like that simple. Not too heavily sauced I presume?
MK: I don’t know. Now I’m worried about which kind of pasta to serve. What am I going to do?
EL: What would be for dessert?
MK: Pavlova with berries.
EL: Pavlova. Yes, I’ve seen you draw Pavlova. I like Pavlovas. We should explain, they’re meringues essentially, right? And people usually put fruit in them because they’re puff meringues.
MK: Yes. So, you put cream in it or lemon crème fraiche or some kind of wonderful cream thing, and then laden it as we like to say. Laden it with berries and some sauce.
EL: So, pasta and Pavlova.
MK: Does that sound like a good dinner? I don’t know.
EL: It might need one more thing.
MK: Okay, maybe forget the past and have a veal roast.
EL: I like that.
MK: Okay. Veal roast with potatoes and greens and then the Pavlova.
EL: Got it. I like that. Okay. What are you listening to?
MK: Well, I guess we’d listen to some of one of my guest’s music.
EL: But that’s too easy.
MK: We’re listening to Glenn Gould playing Bach.
EL: Okay. Do you have guilty pleasures when it comes to food? Well, obviously-
MK: Besides Snickers and Cheez Doodles?
EL: Yeah. Cheez Doodles is obviously one.
MK: It’s not I mean it’s not a guilty pleasure. It’s just like bring it on. Chocolate chip mint ice cream. I think I can live on that.
EL: Like just have a pint
MK: Are you talking-
EL: Yeah, that.
MK: Yeah. I wouldn’t sit down and have a pint, but I could maybe when I was pregnant, I did. Yes, I did.
EL: All right. I like this chocolate chip. Any others that immediately come to mind? I like Cheetos. You wouldn’t have them together.
MK: No, no, no, they’re separate pleasures. I do love Snickers.
EL: All right, that’s good. So, three books that have profoundly influenced your life and work.
MK: Speak Memory, by Vladimir Nabokov. Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time. Well, we’ll say Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking just to round it out and the first book that I read that I went, “I’m going to do this job.”
EL: It’s interesting about Proust and the Nabokov book, because they are about moments. You’re really drawn to artists and writers and musicians that sort of live in the moment.
MK: Well, what’s funny about Proust is, boy he doesn’t.
EL: Yeah, exactly. Right.
MK: But the looking back-
EL: It’s the extended moment.
MK: Right, exactly. The scrutiny of those for 20 pages of a moment is something extraordinary.
EL: Yeah, for sure. So, it’s just been declared Maira Kalman day all over the world. What’s happening on that day?
MK: A lot of naps are being taken. It’s a napping. It’s national napping day.
EL: That’s good.
MK: What’s happening?
EL: Yeah. Well, naps are-
MK: Everybody’s walking everywhere. Once you’re well rested and you know you’re going to have a nap later, everybody’s walking everywhere.
EL: Are they dancing?
MK: If they want to. They don’t have to be dancing.
EL: They don’t have to be dancing.
MK: No. Walking.
EL: Just walking.
MK: The whole everybody’s celebratorily walking.
EL: Well, Maira, thanks so much for allowing me to pepper you with questions. I am kind of a fanboy as I’ve told you, but I feel like we’re just getting started here. We haven’t even talked about your new book, Cake. So, you’re going to stick around to do that with your collaborator Barbara Scott-Goodman. But this is a wrap for this episode of Special Sauce. So long Serious Eaters and thank you Maira. We’ll see you next time.
MK: Thank you very much. That was fun.