A Quick Bite With Deborah Needleman

A Quick Bite With Deborah Needleman

I’ll be honest, I was nervous about interviewing Deborah Needleman. She’s had a career that any magazine editor would covet. It’s a bit cliche to say now, but I really, really loved Domino Magazine, which she edited until its untimely end. Yes, that is a stack of well-read issues on my bed side table. Currently she’s the editor of WSJ. Magazine (the Wall Street Journal’s weekly) which is also made up of the important magazine ingredients: smart, funny and pretty. And her terrific book on design just came out: The Perfectly Imperfect Home; How to Decorate and Live Well. Just slightly intimidating stuff, right? Well, yes, until she posted a shot on Twitter of her kids grinning with spoons suspended from their noses. The caption read, “I’m so proud of my children.” I laughed out loud and got over myself.

I loved what Deborah had to say about the rules at her table. It reminded me of something we’ve been talking about a lot at SPC, how meals are so much more than the food we sit down to. Plus, her anecdote on toy purging motivated me to clean out our own toy tornado. Get a better look at her new book by reading the excerpt we ran last week or come back tomorrow for a chance to win a copy of your own. Thanks Deborah, for making the time to chat with us! photo by Melanie Acevedo

SPC: What is your earliest food memory?
DN: Holiday meals at my grandmothers: moist lumpen masses of gefilte fish (uneaten) , matzo ball soup: a little oily scented with dill, and matzo balls special requested to be a little toothy (yum), something called kugle that is a sweet, eggy,  noodley casserole with raisins and a crispy noodle top (love because I loved it then although would never make it) and a divine brisket, soft and cooked in carrots and potatoes

SPC: How did you learn to cook?
DN: I’m not sure I ever did. I guess just by doing it.

SPC: Do you still cook any family dishes?
DN: That brisket but not often. I’d love to make it instead of turkey for thanksgiving.  But then there’d be no point for delicious cranberry sauce

SPC: Do you cook with your kids?
DN: Their initial interest never equals their sustained interest. They like to plant seeds and harvest vegetables though

SPC: How do you deal with pickiness (if that’s an issue in your house)?
DN: Yelling, cajoling and sometimes bribery.

SPC: Should restaurants be a) kid-free zones where adults can enjoy a meal in relative peace or b) a place to introduce kids to culinary adventure?
DN: I’d love the rule to be that it’s fine for me,  but that no one else should do it! Depends on the kids really. I love introducing them to new experiences. We just ate at Galatoires in New Orleans. An old school place where the same waiters have worked for decades and men have to wear jackets. But if you’re bringing little kids to a restaurant, just go early.

SPC: What’s your go-to meal to make on a busy weekday evening?
DN: A sautéed cauliflower pasta I learned in Rome. Andrew Carmellini’s broccoli rabe pesto. Roasted chicken (Andrew Carmellini’s is good). Our major food crushes at the moment are him and Nigel Slater.

SPC: Is there any food/cuisine that intimidates you?
DN: Not to eat. But I only like cooking simple food.

SPC: What are the rules at your table? (no elbows on the table? clean your plate?)
DN: No interrupting. Napkin on lap. Don’t talk with your mouth full–that one never works.  Try to make conversation and talk about your day. The children are full participants in adult conversations to the extent they can or want to be.

SPC: What’s your favourite meal to serve at dinner parties?
DN: I like to mix it up. And I like it best when my husband cooks.

SPC: How important is a beautiful table to you? Only for dinner parties? Every  night?
DN: Very. I hate eating in our kitchen because I’m not crazy about the lighting. I like candles and cloth napkins all the time. But it doesn’t happen all the time. I get great pleasure from laying the table. Especially for guests.

SPC: What’s your advice to people who want to marry design with family life? Is there a way to find a balance or will the toys always win?
DN: The toys can never be allowed to win! They can be around–and a few things scattered hither and thither make a house looked lived in and feel comfortable– but when the balance tips in their favor, you’re sunk. Baskets, baskets and baskets. They are fast storage and look great  And fewer but higher quality toys. Don’t let Fisher Price or other brands that make offensive looking  toys into your home if you can help it! I was like the anti Santa, filling great big trash bags of toys and carting them away.

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  1. yasmin
    December 01, 09:58 Reply

    great interview and always nice to get more deborah (did anyone mourn domino as much as you and i, ceri?? fine, you and i and DN!)

  2. jacq
    December 02, 12:05 Reply

    I love the tip about the toy purge. we aren’t big toy shoppers as a rule, (sorry kids) and as result stuff hangs around forever when really i should just toss some of it. thank god someone admits to yelling, cajoling and bribery, none of which works for me, but still…

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