Kim Severson has been a food writer for The New York Times since 2004. Previously, she was a food writer and editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, where she won national awards for news and feature writing, including the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism in 2002. Spoon Fed (April) is her memoir recounting the tough life lessons she learned from a generation of female cooks including Marion Cunningham, Alice Waters, Ruth Reichl, Rachael Ray, and Marcella Hazan.
Her ideal guests at the Ritz, she tells PopMatters 20 Questions, would be Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt and Lucille Ball.
1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Patti Smith’s Just Kids. It was just such a beautiful story. She loved Robert Mapplethorpe so. And the book itself is beautiful to hold, just the way the paper is cut and the font. But I did kind of almost tear up when we watched The Blind Side on pay per view the other night.
2. The fictional character most like you?
I have always identified with Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. I can remember feeling a lot like her as a kid. I had her budding distaste for injustice, her deep loyalty and that overwhelming feeling that all this heavy stuff was always dawning on you. And then there is this: “There was to be a pageant representing our county’s agricultural products; I was to be a ham.”
3. The greatest album, ever?
Bruce Springsteen’s Greetings from Asbury Park. No, wait, Nanci Griffith’s One Fair Summer Evening. No, wait, The Essential Guy Clark. No, wait…
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Really? Can I pick neither? If forced, I pick Star Wars but only because of the completely hilarious Carrie Fisher.
I saw her one-woman Broadway show Wishful Drinking. She ran through all the ways her image was recreated as Princess Leia. There was even a life-sized doll. She’s so funny, and she has some great stories about getting sober. I dig her. But if you meant what would I rather watch, I guess Star Trek.
New Alaska Cookbook: Recipes from the Last Frontier’s Best Chefs
Kim Severson, Glenn Denkler
(Sasquatch [2nd ed.]; US: Jun 2009)
5. Your ideal brain food?
The New Yorker. And pretty much any good novel. And the iPod shuffle.
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
That I had the courage to tell the truth still surprises me. I want to be liked, and I want people to think well of me. Oh, and I am overly sensitive. Did I mention that? So that I was able to tell a strong story, to write honestly about my life and to honor some other people along the way makes me feel pretty good.
7. You want to be remembered for…?
Being the kind of person who showed up when people needed me. And for being a good mother and a good daughter. And maybe for being funny.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
Anyone who has been oppressed and stood up for themselves, especially poor people and women and all of the gays and lesbians who could never imagine that someone like Ellen DeGeneres would have a talk show.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
I wouldn’t want to claim someone else’s work. But if I could paint so well that people wept when they looked at my work or write an opera that moved people so deeply they couldn’t put the emotion into words. That would be something.
10. Your hidden talents…?
I play softball really well for a middle-aged woman with lousy knees. I can cream the ball. I’m also good with dogs and kids.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
That day at a time thing works pretty well for me. So does this: No matter how bad or angry you’re feeling, just wait for a while before you act. Feelings aren’t facts and they will change quickly. Both pieces of advice came from people who stopped drinking and passed the information about how they did it on to me.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
Well, I stole beer a lot when I was young l and I recall that being pretty good.
I borrowed my brother’s Pink Floyd albums in high school and that kind of changed everything.
I bought a house, which forced me to finally clean up my credit record and understand my finances. It made me feel like I had finally grown up and that I was going to be OK.
But honestly, the best thing I ever paid for were the medical costs associated with my daughter’s birth.
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or…?
Can I wear an Armani blouse with Levi’s? But the shoes must always be sensible.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
I like a foursome at dinner, so I would pick Gertrude Stein to see if she was really all that, Eleanor Roosevelt because she was such a brilliant woman and I want to hear what really happened, and Lucille Ball because I want to understand more about how to be funny and because someone would need to keep the conversation going.
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
I’d like to go into the future, to see how things turn out. Like, do we really end up changing how we eat for the better? Do we figure out the fossil fuel thing? How does the digital revolution end up changing the way people live?
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
Spa vacation in a New York minute. Or any time by the ocean, preferably the Pacific.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or…?
Coffee and chocolate, but man do I miss the cigarettes. I also love a meander through a good vegetable garden, especially when the peas are perfect or later, when the tomatoes are.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
A little farm in Sonoma County and a New York apartment would be nice. But I might also need a beach house somewhere. But all of it in America. I love to travel but I want to live where I’m from.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
Let gay people get married.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
My job at the newspaper and a cookbook that pits my colleague Julia Moskin and me against each other in a series of challenges, like who can make the best meal for someone with a broken heart or whether cake or pie is better. It’s for Ecco Press, Dan Halperin’s imprint.