Nora Ephron


Essayist, journalist, screenwriter and movie director Nora Ephron passed away yesterday at the age of 71 (New York Times obituary). I'm writing about her here, only the second time I have written a tribute to someone who's passed away in nearly 10 years of Just Hungry, because in many ways she influenced what I do now.

You may know Ms. Ephron mostly as a movie director (You've Got Mail, Julie and Julia) and screenwriter (Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally),or maybe as a blogger and editor for the Huffington Post. But for me, she will always be the funniest and sharpest lady writing about things that women really care about. From her early works like Crazy Salad, where she wrote about breast size, to her recent works about how it basically sucks to get old, she always nailed it. (Although I almost screamed "NO!" when I read the last line of A Few Words On Breasts when I read it the first time, when I was 17. I had the opposite problem from what she did. I've always wanted small cute boobs. Now that they're almost hanging down to my knees, more than ever.)

But the reason why she's here on a food site is because she also wrote a lot about food. The most famous example is her semi-autobiographical novel Heartburn, which is a fictionalized account of her breakup with Carl Bernstein. (In case you don't know, he was one of the Washington Post reporters that broke the Watergate story.) Almost every chapter has a recipe in it that is somehow tied to the story. I've tried all of them except for the lima beans and pears, and they are all terrific. Her way of making, and eating, mashed potatoes is what I have copied whenever I was exceptionally blue ever since I read the book back in the mid '80s. The tomato and basil pasta is also to die for.

She wrote about food in many other ways too. In Scribble Scribble, a collection of essays about the media, there is a biting essay about Dorothy Schiff (the owner at the time) and the New York Post that ends with a simple but delicious recipe for borscht. In the same volume she has an essay about Gourmet magazine (or was it Bon Appetit) that sums up why I basically stopped buying most American food magazines. She's not known as a food writer, unlike M.F.K. Fisher or Calvin Trillin, but in her own way she was able to describe how intertwined food is with most other aspects of life, and how joyous cooking and eating can be, as vibrantly as anyone. And of course, food featured prominently in her movies. Who can forget that scene in the deli in When Harry Met Sally?

I think that in the end, I don't want to be pigeonholed as a cook or a food writer. I want to be remembered as a writer who wrote in an entertaining and witty way about the things she cared about. Like Nora.

RIP, Ms. Ephron. And thank you for everything, especially the mashed potatoes.

Filed under:  essays writers personal

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Thanks for sharing and though I found your blogs by way of searching for Japanese food and recipes, I love how you talk about other cultural aspects of the places you live/lived. Like the markets and your house in France and the aftermatch of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Though I also like the recipes for their simplicity, healthiness and deliciousness :)

That was a lovely appreciation, Maki. I'm sure that Ms. Ephron would have treasured that last line.

Oh, I just watched "When Harry met Sally" again last Sunday. I've been meaning to check out one of her books ("I remember nothing") from the library, I don't know why I didn't in the end. Thanks for reminding me of her again, I'll check out the book next time!

What a lovely tribute to Nora Ephron. Reading about her mashed potato recipe brought Heartburn back to me vividly.

I thought you should know you are one of the few blogs/people I actually follow religiously. Not just because you have an awesome food blog, but more because I enjoy your voice as a writer and a person. I think you are interesting and witty. On the rare occasions I actually manage to write for my own blog, I hope that I voice like that.

/cheesy fan girl rant

You DO write in an entertaining and witty way as well as interestingly and informatively!! The things you care about seem to be the things many of us care about. And we care for you and respect you for that. You may not have cute small boobs but you do have a beautiful large spirit!

Very eloquent memorial for a woman who touched so many of us so personally. I too was saddened by her untimely death, hoping to read more about aging and enjoy more of her wonderful appreciation of good food. A toast to Nora!!

I'll echo the first commenter and thank you for sharing your thoughts on Nora Ephron.

Firstly, I was only familiar with her film work, so now I'll check out her print writings too..

Secondly, I've always enjoyed your frank and witty writing style, and admire your ambition. I'll continue to visit your blogs not just for the recipes, but for the writing.

What a lovely tribute! I've always been a fan of Ms. Ephron yet I have never read any of her books. I have been wondering what to read next, and now I know what to look for. Although I've been a closet reader of your blog for a while now, I am happy I found my voice so that I can thank you. Thank you for all that you write and share. Your writing IS entertaining, you are an engaging and witty writer and I appreciate all that you share on your blog.

Some of my favorite movies...and my favorite quotes too were from this amazing lady. This is a very touching post.

Hi Maki,

I also like Nora Ephron but from her romantic-witty point of view. I didn't knew she write about food too. I'm having intimate moment with Nora through her book "I don't like my neck". It's so funny yet heart aching in the same time. Thanks for the homage article for her. Not only help me remember her awesomeness, also discovering something more about her.

Btw, I found these tasty sweetened soft shell crab and assorted anchovy snacks; also a variety of pickled-dried octopus and squid at Ameyoko Market. It quite tasty, I use it as condiment for my oatmeal and salads. I'm just curious how it's being used in the proper Japanese way.

Arigato Gozaimasu