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Why Samin Nosrat Is Now ‘Fully YOLO’

Why Samin Nosrat Is Now ‘Fully YOLO’

This transcript was created using speech recognition software. While it has been reviewed by human transcribers, it may contain errors. Please review the episode audio before quoting from this transcript and email [email protected] with any questions.

archived recording 1

Love now and always.

archived recording 2

Did you fall in love?

archived recording 3

Just tell her I love her.

archived recording 4

Love is stronger than anything.

archived recording 5

For the love of love.

archived recording 6

And I love you more than anything.

archived recording 7

(SINGING) What is love?

archived recording 8

Here’s to love.

archived recording 9

Love.

[THEME MUSIC]

anna martin

From “The New York Times,” I’m Anna Martin. This is “Modern Love.” And we’re still celebrating our 20th anniversary, spotlighting our favorite love stories with our favorite writers, musicians, artists, and, today, a chef.

Cooking for someone is the original way to say “I love you.” The labor, the time, the care, all that chopping and kneading and careful seasoning. So if food is love, then chef and writer Samin Nosrat just might be the most romantic person in the world.

archived recording (samin nosrat)

It’s sweet.

archived recording 10

[ITALIAN]

archived recording (samin nosrat)

Yeah, it’s rich in flavor.

archived recording 10

Yeah.

archived recording (samin nosrat)

It’s so good. It’s so good. It’s bringing tears to my eyes.

archived recording 10

Thank you.

archived recording (samin nosrat)

It’s so good.

anna martin

That’s Samin on her Netflix show “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat,” freaking out in the best way over some Parmesan cheese in Italy, with the people who spent years making it. This is Samin in her element, sharing meals and laughs and sometimes tears with other people.

From the vibrant, delicious dinners she hosts for her friends —

archived recording (samin nosrat)

I’m going to put you straight to work. So do you want a glass of wine first?

archived recording 11

Yeah.

archived recording (samin nosrat)

All right.

anna martin

— to making traditional Iranian dishes with her mom, with some trial and error.

archived recording (samin nosrat)

Apparently, I’ve been doing this wrong my whole life.

archived recording (mrs. nosrat)

You’re not frying it. You’re just making good crusty patty.

archived recording (samin nosrat)

OK.

anna martin

To her instructional videos showing us how home cooks can make cheesy molten lasagna from scratch.

archived recording (samin nosrat)

Hot. Oh my god. It’s like a piece of lava going down my throat.

OK. I hope that you get to share this lasagna with a bunch of people. I hope it brings you a little joy and comfort and deliciousness.

anna martin

When we asked Samin to pick a “Modern Love,” essay she knew exactly which one she wanted to read. It’s an essay that involves food, of course. But it’s also an essay about time, how precious it is, and how just like a piece of piping hot lasagna, we have to savor it with the people we love.

Samin Nosrat, welcome to “Modern Love.”

samin nosrat

Thanks so much for having me, Anna.

anna martin

OK. I worry this is going to sound creepy, but I’m just going to tell you we’ve actually met before. We have a friend in common, and one time I tagged along on an errand with her. She was dropping off a pot she’d borrowed from you at your house.

samin nosrat

Oh, for her chili.

anna martin

Exactly. Yes. And I met you then.

samin nosrat

Well, did I still live in my little apartment? Or did I live here?

anna martin

No, it was like a house with a garden in the middle.

samin nosrat

Yeah, yeah. That’s where I live now.

anna martin

And you gave me a LaCroix.

samin nosrat

Oh, wow.

anna martin

And I fangirled very quietly.

samin nosrat

[LAUGHS]: That’s funny.

anna martin

OK, now that that’s over, before we get to the essay, I want to ask you a personal question. You are so openly emotional on “Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat,” your TV show, and throughout all your other work. You have these moments where you laugh out loud or you burst into tears because something tastes so good.

samin nosrat

[LAUGHS]:

anna martin

Have you always been that way with your emotions so close to the surface?

samin nosrat

Hmm. I think yes and no. Like, I think the feelings have always been there. My family’s from Iran, and my particular family has its own story of loss and grief and being affected by culture. And so in my family, I was not necessarily encouraged to express my feelings. And so it’s taken a lot of work, a lot of therapy, a lot of sitting with it and also just connecting back to who I am.

And I think part of that’s just growing up and getting outside of constantly worrying what other people think, which I only do it 98 percent of the time now, not 100. But —

[LAUGHS]

But I think instead of being embarrassed about the things that rise inside of me and want to come out, now I understand that’s all I can do, and that’s who I am. And in a way, that’s what draws certain people toward me is I maybe give permission —

Because the thing tastes so good, right? How could I contain myself? You know? I just — yeah, it’s just I have to let it out. It’s so good. And don’t you want to share that with someone?

anna martin

Totally.

samin nosrat

This tastes so good. I want you to have some.

anna martin

I mean, your emotion invites us in. It invites us to feel deeply alongside you. So, Samin, when we asked you to come on the show, you knew immediately which essay you wanted to read. It’s called “You May Want To Marry My husband,” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. And you said it was because were obsessed with Amy, that you were an ardent fan, that you’d followed her intensely for years. Without giving away too much of the story, before listeners hear it, can you tell me why you’re so drawn to her?

samin nosrat

I probably first encountered her work maybe like 2005, which was a time in my life when I was reading a lot of blogs by artists and creative people. I was really deeply unhappy in my own path as a restaurant cook, and I wanted to become a writer, so I would spend all of my time filling my spare time with creative juju.

And I saw her book. I think it’s called “Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life.” It was a memoir written in this amazing format of encyclopedic entries, but of just ordinary things in her life. And I just thought it was so clever and smart, and so I started following her online, and she was always doing projects that invited strangers in.

And so she had an event that she’d documented and turned into a short film called “The Beckoning of Lovely.” And the internet was already starting to turn dark, you know? And it was this thing where I was in time of so much darkness and disconnection, she was offering a beautiful way to connect.

anna martin

Mm-hmm. I know that video. I’ve watched it several times. Amy Krouse Rosenthal called this project “The Beckoning of Lovely” as you said because her whole sort of ethos was beckoning in, calling in light and joy and connection. So she had all these strangers show up to make art together at 8/8, so October 8, 2008 at 8:08 PM.

samin nosrat

Oh, I forgot 808.

[laughs]

It was just this beautiful thing to witness. This movie was so joyful and special and magical and innocent. And I wanted to do things like that. I wanted to be part of something like that. It was so inspiring.

anna martin

Absolutely inspiring. Her work was so playful, and the “Modern Love” essay she wrote also has that quality. But at the same time, it is a total tearjerker. This essay makes me cry.

Before you read, I want to pose a theory to you. I feel like there are two types of people in the world. There are the people who like a story that makes you cry, and there are people who avoid it like the plague.

samin nosrat

OK.

anna martin

And you in picking this essay, you just went right for it. You went directly into the emotion. So I want to know, why do you think you’re not afraid of the sad when a lot of people are?

samin nosrat

Hmm. I think sadness has always just been a part of my life. And yet, in my work and in the world, I’m so deeply associated with joy. And you can’t have one without the other. I think my orientation toward joy is because I have so much sadness inside.

anna martin

I mean, this essay has both. It has the joy, and it has the sadness. I completely see why you were so drawn to it, and I can’t wait to hear you read it.

samin nosrat

OK, great. “You May Want To Marry My Husband,” by Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

“I’ve been trying to write this for a while, but the morphine and lack of juicy cheeseburgers — What has it been now, five weeks without real food?— have drained my energy and interfered with whatever prose prowess remains. Additionally, the intermittent micro-naps that keep whisking me away mid-sentence are clearly not propelling my work forward as quickly as I would like. But they are admittedly a bit of trippy fun.

Still I have to stick with it because I’m facing a deadline, in this case a pressing one. I need to say this and say it right while I have, A, your attention, and, B, a pulse. I’ve been married to the most extraordinary man for 26 years. I was planning on at least another 26 together.

[SOFT MUSIC]

Want to hear a sick joke? A husband and wife walk into the emergency room in the late evening on September 5, 2015. A few hours and tests later, the doctor clarifies that the unusual pain the wife is feeling on her right side isn’t the no-biggie appendicitis they suspected but rather ovarian cancer.

As the couple head home in the early morning of September 6, somehow through the foggy shock of it all they make the connection that today, the day they learned what had been festering, is also the day they would have officially kicked off their empty nestering. The youngest of their three children had just left for college.

So many plans instantly went poof. No trip with my husband and parents to South Africa. No reason now to apply for the Harvard Loeb Fellowship. No dream tour of Asia with my mother. No writer’s residencies at those wonderful schools in India, Vancouver, Jakarta.

No wonder the word ‘cancer’ and ‘cancel’ look so similar. This is when we entered what I came to think of as Plan Be — that’s — B-E — existing only in the present.

As for the future, allow me to introduce you to the gentleman of this article, Jason Brian Rosenthal.

He’s an easy man to fall in love with. I did it in one day. Let me explain. My father’s best friend since summer camp, Uncle John, had known Jason and me separately our whole lives, but Jason and I had never met. I went to college out East and took my first job in California.

When I moved back home to Chicago, John, who thought Jason and I were perfect for each other, set us up on a blind date. It was 1989. We were only 24. I had precisely zero expectations about this going anywhere. But when he knocked on the door of my little frame house, I thought, uh-oh, there’s something highly likable about this person.

By the end of dinner, I knew I wanted to marry him. Jason? He knew a year later. I’ve never been on Tinder, Bumble, or eHarmony, but I’m going to create a general profile of Jason right here, based on my experience of coexisting in the same house with him for, like, 9,490 days.

First, the basics — he’s 5 foot 10, 160 pounds, with salt and pepper hair and hazel eyes. The following list of attributes is in no particular order because everything feels important to me in some way.

He’s a sharp dresser. Our young adult sons, Justin and Miles, often borrow his clothes. Those who know him or just happen to glance down at the gap between his dress slacks and dress shoes, know that he has a flair for fabulous socks. He’s fit and enjoys keeping in shape.

If our home could speak, it would add that Jason is uncannily handy. On the subject of food, man, can he cook. After a long day, there’s no sweeter joy than seeing him walk in the door, plop a grocery bag down on the counter, and woo me with olives and some yummy cheese he has procured before he gets to work on the evening’s meal.

Jason loves listening to live music. It’s our favorite thing to do together. I should also add that our 19 year old daughter Paris would rather go to a concert with him than anyone else. When I was working on my first memoir, I kept circling sections my editor wanted me to expand upon.

She would say, I’d like to see more of this character. Of course, I would agree. He was indeed a captivating character. But it was funny because she could have just said, let’s add more about Jason.

He’s an absolutely wonderful father. Ask anyone. See that guy on the corner? He’ll tell you. Jason is compassionate, and he can flip a pancake. Jason paints. I love his artwork. I would call him an artist, except for the law degree that keeps him at his downtown office most days from 9:00 to 5:00. Or at least it did before I got sick.

If you’re looking for a dreamy let’s-go-for-it travel companion, Jason is your man. He also has an affinity for tiny things, taster spoons, little jars, a mini-sculpture of a couple sitting on a bench, which he presented to me as a reminder of how our family began.

Here’s the kind of man Jason is. He showed up at our first pregnancy ultrasound with flowers. This is a man who, because he is always up early, surprises me every Sunday morning by making some kind of oddball smiley face out of items near the coffee pot — a spoon, a mug, a banana.

This is a man who emerges from the mini-mart or gas station and says, give me your palm. And voila, a colorful gumball appears. He knows I love all the flavors but white.

[SOFT MUSIC]

My guess is you know enough about him now. So let’s swipe right. Wait. Did I mention that he’s incredibly handsome? I’m going to miss looking at that face of his. If he sounds like a prince and our relationship seems like a fairy tale, it’s not too far off, except for all of the regular stuff that comes from 2 and 1/2 decades of playing house together, and the part about me getting cancer. Blech.

In my most recent memoir, written entirely before my diagnosis, I invited readers to send in suggestions for matching tattoos, the idea being that author and reader would be bonded by ink. I was totally serious about this and encouraged submitters to be serious as well. Hundreds poured in.

A few weeks after publication in August, I heard from a 62-year-old librarian in Milwaukee named Paulette. She suggested the word ‘more.’ This was based on an essay in the book where I mentioned that ‘more’ was my first spoken word. True. And now it may very well be my last. Time shall tell.

In September, Paulette drove down to meet me at a Chicago tattoo parlor. She got hers, her very first, on her left wrist. I got mine on the underside of my left forearm, in my daughter’s handwriting. This was my second tattoo. The first is a small lowercase J that has been on my ankle for 25 years. You can probably guess what it stands for. Jason has one too, but with more letters — A-K-R.

I want more time with Jason. I want more time with my children. I want more time sipping martinis at the Green Mill Jazz Club on Thursday nights. But that is not going to happen. I probably only have a few days left being a person on this planet.

So why am I doing this? I’m wrapping this up on Valentine’s Day, and the most genuine non-vase-oriented gift I can hope for is that the right person reads this, finds Jason, and another love story begins. I’ll leave this intentional empty space below as a way of giving you two the fresh start you deserve.

With all my love, Amy.”

I mean, she was just herself the entire time she was alive. She was just always and fully Amy Krouse Rosenthal. I think that’s what struck me when I read this, and it strikes me now.

anna martin

More from Samin after the break.

Samin, Thank You so much for reading Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s essay. You did an incredibly beautiful job. What did it bring up for you?

samin nosrat

I remember when I first read this in the paper, I was surprised. I had not seen anything from her in a while. And I actually think she died shortly after, just a few days after it was published. And so it came with that note, and it was just such a shock because she was so young and so alive. Aliveness was at the core of what I associated with her.

And yet still in this story, she’s still so fully herself, and everything that I had been drawn to from the beginning about finding beauty in the ordinary and finding ways to bring people together comes out here. She’s doing it here. She’s inviting people into her life and her husband’s life. She tells the story of connecting with her readers and getting a tattoo, and there’s just this way where it’s so deeply moving and so beautiful and so sad. And I think you just can’t have one without the other.

anna martin

You know, you mentioned that in your work, in your public persona, you are known for your joy, which is — I mean, your laugh is like a golden beam of light to me. It invigorates me, and I know so many others. And you’re talking about the sadness, too, that you carry, and I guess I wonder how you approach holding both of those.

You say you can’t have one without the other. I wonder how you carry both at the same time.

samin nosrat

I mean, I am a depressive person. I’ve been like deeply overwhelmed by loss and sadness throughout my life. And even as I sit here talking, I can just feel the core of sadness in my heart. And also sometimes I have to wallow in it. And at other times, I think it’s just been a conscious decision for me.

It’s almost like a survival mechanism that I can’t stay there. I can’t live there. So I can feel it, and I can acknowledge it, and I can let it be there. And also the way I have to exist in the world is by looking for beauty and looking for joy and looking for connection.

And I’m not an actor. I wish. Sometimes I really wish I could act. But the joy that I emit and I represent is also very genuine. It’s not an act. But also I have to leave room for the other part of it.

anna martin

Because genuine joy and genuine sadness coexist together. It sounds like you’ve come to a place in your life where you really deeply acknowledge that. And in its own way, I think the essay does too.

There are so many beautiful things that Amy writes about her husband Jason, and one of those things is that he cooks for her. She writes, “After a long day, there is no sweeter joy than seeing him walk in the door, plop a grocery bag down on the counter and woo me with olives and some yummy cheese.” And I feel like you are the queen of this, I mean, indisputably the queen of expressing love for cooking, of wooing people through food.

What is the last thing you made someone to show them your love?

samin nosrat

Oh, I know. Caesar salad dressing. [LAUGHS]

anna martin

With the real anchovies.

samin nosrat

Yeah, with the real anchovies.

anna martin

Tell me the ingredients. I just want to hear you say it.

samin nosrat

It’s like ASMR [LAUGHING]:

anna martin

Literally. I’m going to bed to this tonight.

samin nosrat

I think that time I used eggs. Sometimes I make the mayonnaise with aquafaba, with the chickpea water. But I think I made it with egg and olive oil, a ton of lemon juice and lemon zest, a ton of Parmesan cheese, a ton of anchovies and garlic.

I always add a little Worcestershire sauce, and then I also add usually some vinegar too, white wine vinegar, salt and pepper. I think that’s everything.

anna martin

Worcestershire? Is that a secret ingredient? I never put that in my own.

samin nosrat

Worcestershire sauce is just like white people fish sauce, basically.

anna martin

Say that —

samin nosrat

And so —

anna martin

You can say that again.

samin nosrat

So sometimes I’ll add a little bit of fish sauce. But either one, it’s just a little secret like kick. But I think it does go back to maybe the ‘50s. I don’t think it was in the original Caesar salad from Tijuana, but it is a classic ingredient.

anna martin

That’s a love letter, isn’t it? That’s a love letter. How does food as love show up in your day to day life?

samin nosrat

I mean, to me, I think a lot about it as time. In some ways, actually, it does relate back to this story and also my own sadness and loss, which is, I think, a thing I’ve been thinking a lot about.

In the last few years, my dad died, and that was just horrible to watch for a million reasons. But a big part of what washed over me when I was watching him die was how sad and horrible the circumstances of his death were. And I was left with this feeling of this is not what I want to look back on when I’m dying.

And it helped me really focus on what I want to think about at the end of my life, which is I want to look back and see a life that was full of friendship and joy and laughter and beauty and nature and puppies and art and connection. And so there has been a sense. I’ve always had in my life of — I think this has a lot to do with being like an immigrant kid and having save, save, save and work, the work ethic drilled into me.

But there’s just been a sense I’ve always had of saving things for later. And I’ll work really hard now so that one day I won’t have to, or I’ll save up all my money so that one day I’ll be OK. Or I’ll say no to all of these things that I could be doing because I should be home working or doing something productive.

And I think as I watched my dad die, it finally sank in. You only get one life, and there’s only the time that there is, and actually the very most precious thing that we have is time. The only thing we can’t get more of, the only thing I can’t buy, the only thing I can’t is time. And so there was just almost this overnight change in me of — I always joke, now I’m fully YOLO.

But it is true. I say yes to — and people are like, oh, do you want to come to this thing across the country next week to be with your friends? I’ll say yes now. And so to go back to your question, that even has shown up for me in my cooking. And a lot of what I’m conscious of as a person who writes recipes and wants to encourage people to cook is that time is really precious and that a lot of people don’t have the time to cook.

And to me, I’m like, oh, if we can shift something in the way that we look at this thing that we do every day to nourish ourselves and to nourish the people around us who we care about and understand that this time is a gift — I’m pouring my time into making you something, and that is me sharing my most precious currency with you.

So it’s not about making the most fanciest things. Sometimes I make chili crisp, and that’s a project that takes a day or a day or two. And I make it once a year. And then I give that away. But then the gift is more than just that jar. I’m giving you all of the time and energy and thoughtfulness that I put into that.

I mean, my most tangible thing that I do is that for now, I think three or four years, a small group of my friends and I have dinner together every week. It’s truly our Sabbath. It’s our thing that we all look forward to every week. Sometimes I’m testing recipes, but sometimes we order empanadas. Sometimes we just have a pot of beans con todo.

It’s not necessarily some sort of a culinary thing, but it’s about creating this ritual for ourselves and the kids and investing that time with each other. Now I just talked longer than the essay. Sorry. [LAUGHS]

anna martin

And by the way, you just gave us the title of the episode, which is “Now I’m Fully YOLO.”

A conversation with Samin Nosrat.

Which is just perfect.

But what you’re saying is so spot on. And in a way, it so directly aligns with — I think one of the takeaways from the essay is when she’s talking about the idea of more. She wants more time with her husband. She wants more time with her kids. She wants more time sipping martinis.

I mean, it’s this idea, as you’re articulating, of our most precious resource being time. And it almost seems too simple, but it’s so true. Amy Krouse Rosenthal died 10 days after this essay was published. And her husband Jason later published his own “Modern Love” essay as a response piece to honor her. And in it, he wrote, “Amy continues to open doors for me, to affect my choices, to send me off into the world to make the most of it.”

And I have to say, Samin, I feel like Amy has done this for you too. What about this essay do you carry with you?

samin nosrat

I think the main thing that I carry with me is the kindness and love and generosity with which it was written and the idea of, I love this person so much, and I want to give them permission to go have a full life, and I want to sing the praises of them so that everyone else can understand.

In some ways, she’s not the main character of her own story. He is, and that sense of generosity and kindness is what I think of when I think of this, that even as she suffered this sad, horrible illness, she was able to look outward. And I think, that, to me, my loneliness and sadness often threatens to pull me inward and make me close myself off from the world.

And this is a nice reminder that ultimately the best way to be and the most fruitful way to be is to open up and connect.

anna martin

Hmm.

Samin, thank you so much.

samin nosrat

Oh, thanks for having me.

anna martin

And we should say thank you to Amy Krouse Rosenthal for these words.

samin nosrat

Yes, and thank you so much to Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

[THEME MUSIC]

anna martin

Next week, I talk with the star of the Netflix show “You,” and of course, everyone’s favorite brooding writer from “Gossip Girl,” Penn Badgley.

archived recording (penn badgley)

We say parents’ love is unconditional. That’s actually not true. It’s not true! It’s just not. It is conditioned quite often.

anna martin

“Modern Love” is produced by Julia Botero, Cristina Djossa, Reva Goldberg, Davis Land, and Emily Lang, with help from Kate LoPresti. It’s edited by our executive producer Jen Poyant and Paula Szuchman. The “Modern Love” theme music is by Dan Powell. Original music by Dan Powell, Corey Schroeppel, and Rowan Niemisto.

This episode was mixed by Daniel Ramirez. Our show is recorded by Maddy Masiello. Digital production by Mahima Chablani and Nell Gallogly. The “Modern Love” column is edited by Daniel Jones. Miya Lee is the editor of “Modern Love Projects.” I’m Anna Martin. Thanks for listening.


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