Articles / Delia Ephron Reflects on Heartburn — and, of Course, Nora

Delia Ephron Reflects on Heartburn — and, of Course, Nora

Published April 12, 2023

Plus: how gun violence relates to food, the best steak, and the soothing nature of babies and Keanu Reeves


Nora Ephron’s novel Heartburn is now, astonishingly, marking its fortieth anniversary, and to celebrate, we invited her sister, Delia Ephron, a successful writer in her own right — her most recent book is Left on Tenth: A Second Chance at Life, about her leukemia diagnosis and subsequent happy recovery and new love — to come on Food with Mark Bittman.

Heartburn is a book that I might even call one-of-a-kind; not only is it that good, but it’s a novel about infidelity, and heartbreak, and other things that aren’t happy, but it still reads as funny and even joyful at times. I reread it two weeks ago in preparation for our interview with Delia, and I just could not believe how well it has held up.

Kate and I were so thrilled that Delia accepted our invitation to come on the podcast to talk about Heartburn, and many of Delia’s and Nora’s other accomplishments (Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally…, You’ve Got Mail), and New York, and lots of food, of course, and sibling relationships, and how much she loved her sister. She was a joy to talk to.

Heartburn “really brought Nora alive to me. And since she’s gone, and I miss her so much, reading this book is spending a couple of hours or days with my sister, who could take anything and spin it into a really riveting way.” — Delia Ephron

Thank you for listening. The recipes featured on today’s episode, for Rachel Samstat’s vinaigrette, and for lima beans and pears, are here, and your weekly Marksisms are below.

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This Week’s Marksisms

Food is Life; So is Politics

Paul Auster has a new book called Bloodbath Nation; it’s fairly short and he called it an essay. (There’s a great review and summary of it here; you might need a subscription.) It’s a different kind of book – there are photos, and anecdotes, and arguments, and it’s personal, and it’s global … he’s a fine and original writer, and the book is worthy of his talents.

I just wish there were some way I could believe it would be even marginally effective. As this Washington Post piece points out, things are going from bad to worse, not only in the number of mass murders in the US (there’s at least one a day, by current definition) but in Republicans’ firm belief that their base wants no gun control at all (and is far more interested in making sure that their children don’t learn about systemic racism, or whatever). And even those who, regardless of party, do see that sane gun laws are imperative don’t seem to vote on that basis.

What’s this have to do with food? Well, I could say, “nothing” – after all, I wrote about college hoops last week – or I could say “We’re interested in justice and especially in unnecessary disease and death, primarily around food.”

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But that primacy is only there because that’s where my voice has been most common and most effective. My guess, though, is that anyone who’s truly interested in food justice is interested in minimizing violence in general.

When I was writing “food opinion” pieces for the Times, I asked the ‘big’ editor, after Sandy Hook, if I could write about gun control. “Why?” he asked.” I said, “Because I’m upset, because this is a public health issue like food, because it’s a leading cause of preventable death, but also because reasonable people see this as a crisis but fail to see that diabetes is also a preventable crisis and most people don’t see that, and I want to draw the parallels.” (He said, “Yes, of course you can, just don’t come back next week and ask if you can write about the election.”)

The same politicians who will support responsible gun laws are likely to support responsible food policy reforms, and other laws that most progressives can agree on. It’s not exactly “all the same,” but electing intelligent politicians would go a long way to making real progress on important issues.

And now, for the antidote to all that …

A WEEKEND OF GRANDDAD COOKING

I spent the weekend with my new grandson Max and his parents Emma and Jeff. Mostly my job was to shop and cook, and to keep Jeff company in watching John Wick: Chapter 4. It was a gorgeous weekend in the (relative) north country.

I brought some of my own pre-cooked things from the freezer: a couple of vegetable stews, that cabbage-beet soup I keep bringing up (I’d made a lot), a bit of bouillabaisse …. Emma had requested a “small steak,” something we used to share as an afterschool snack now and then when she was in high school. Because we’re now both grownups (and Jeff is, too), I brought two small steaks, gorgeous Denver cuts from Glynwood’s herd of Dexters, a fantastic breed Kathleen and I first encountered in the UK a few years ago. With those (roasted in the oven, since it was a tad cold for grilling that night) I made smashed new potatoes – boiled, transferred to a cast-iron pan, smashed with Kerri’s brilliant potato masher, browned. And I’d brought a bread and greens for a salad.

The next day I made that shrimp in coconut milk that I wrote about last week; still good. And, as a parting “gift,” I browned a couple of chicken legs (also in the oven; that’s a good technique I’ll write about soon) and then braised them with aromatics – celery, carrot, onion – and water. (A dish like that is even better with stock, but it’s damned good with water.) I didn’t get to eat that but how bad could it be?

John Wick was really fun. Max was even better. Going back soon.