Pie, pie me oh my.
Nora and I first met when I was in kindergarten over a piece of chocolate cream pie on the set of her 1996 movie Michael in Austin, Texas. To me, she did invent pie, and we've been bonding over baked goods ever since then. Years later, I visited the set of Bewitched in L.A. when she'd turned her attention to cupcakes. Even though we both agreed that she'd found the most perfect coconut cream cupcake at Joan's On Third, I never thought she pursued cupcakes with the same tireless tenacity as pie. I think it was a first-love thing, and we all know that Nora loved nothing more than a good love story. I dare you to watch Michael and try not to crave pie. It's impossible.
Nora has been calling herself my godmother since Michael wrapped, but this isn't exactly true. She's not my godmother in any formal sense, but, on numerous occasions, expressed to both me and my parents that if anything were to happen to either of them, that she would not just look after me, but officially adopt me. I'm very fortunate that my parents are both alive and well, but that didn't stop Nora from taking a certain loving interest in me that only a parent could. In this way, she's more like my fairy godmother.
What does it take to be the best fairy godmother one can be? Well, I've only had one, but I think I can safely say she was the best, and I am eternally grateful for what she did to ensure that I am as much the happy, healthy, and well-adjusted individual that she would want me to be. Even though we met when I was quite young, I always thought of Nora as my friend. I think this was due to the amazing ability she had to mentor me without my even knowing I was being mentored. She was always careful to impart wisdom and steer me in the right direction. She loved that I'd abandoned L.A. for New York City, as she had done, and we often chatted over tea about our high school experiences on the West Coast as if they hadn't occurred decades apart. She encouraged me wholeheartedly to attend Barnard College, and we always shared experiences about attending women's colleges. When I shared that I wanted to go into journalism, she told me everything I needed to know and encouraged me to always work with people I liked.
The last time I saw Nora was about three weeks ago on the eve of my college graduation and an impromptu trip to Paris. We had tea at her apartment on the Upper East Side. She presented me with what she called the perfect piece of chocolate cake. She was right, of course; it was heavenly. I presented her with a jar of strawberry rhubarb preserves I'd just made right here in New York. After years of taste testing, I can safely say strawberry rhubarb is my favorite pie filling, and sharing this with Nora just seemed right.
We talked about everything from food to the future, from boys to Girls. When I left, she gave me a list of her must-see spots in Paris, all of which I visited on my trip. I never got to tell her this, but the Helmut Newton show at the Grand Palais was fantastic, and now I want to live inside the Pierre Herme bakery.
When I found out Nora had passed, I was just sitting down to dinner. Needless to say, I lost my appetite. This isn't something that happens often to me, and I knew I should eat something. So, I made a b-line to the nearest diner I could find and had a piece of peach pie.
Pie, pie, me oh my.
I cannot ever thank Nora for turning me into the person I am today, but I can live by her example and treasure her memory for the rest of my life. To share a bit of her with you, I've included one of my favorite recipes of hers: Sand Pasta. In classic cook fashion, this recipe was told to me in a "do a little of this and then a little of that," but I've made this pasta for years now, and it can't help but be delicious despite little recipe tweaks. It's also the perfect summer dish, which we ate at many dinners at Nora and Nick's East Hampton home in the summers growing up. It's delicious.
I miss you, Nora. Love always, Willow.
1 box of pasta (best is spaghetti or angel hair)
4 cloves of garlic (slivered)
about a cup of olive oil (not virgin)
1 cup of coarse breadcrumbs
chopped fresh parsley
salt, pepper, and Parmesan cheese, to taste
Boil pasta according to package instructions.
Preheat oven setting to broil.
In a skillet, heat oil and sauté garlic for about five minutes or until slightly brown, and remove the garlic, reserving oil in pan.
Pour breadcrumbs in a bowl and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the garlic-infused olive oil. Toss evenly.
Spread breadcrumbs onto a baking sheet and broil until lightly brown.
Drain pasta and toss with remaining oil and broiled breadcrumbs. Season liberally with salt and pepper and garnish with parsley. Sprinkle generously with cheese.
Photo: Warner Br/Everett/Rex USA