Can You Ever Forgive Me?

Peppermint Meringues from Bon Appetit

Peppermint Meringues from Bon Appetit

Last week, my writing group held its annual holiday lunch at Zuni Cafe. This year we followed lunch with a movie, “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” In it, Melissa McCarthy plays Lee Israel, a writer who created and sold counterfeit letters from famous authors. She is brilliant (both the actress and the writer) and I cannot recommend it highly enough, especially to writers.

Our “group” is actually just two of us—the perfect size party for ordering the roast chicken. We started with this gorgeous bowl of “Moroccan Jewels,” which I will be recreating (let me know if you’d like the recipe). We drank wine, ate the bread, had a salad, shared the chicken and finished with espresso. After three years of this, it’s become our tradition. I love it.

Really I love any good holiday tradition. This is why every year, I make these sweet (and so so easy) peppermint meringues (pictured above) and recipe here.

It’s also why I make David Lebovitz’s cranberry shrub and the cocktail he makes with it. Every. Year.

While making cioppino isn’t a tradition for me, I’d like it to be so I’ll be making the recipe below. It’s one I created for a Robert Mondavi wine club newsletter—back when I was a freelance food writer—a lifetime ago. I couldn’t help myself and left the original headnote.

When I’m not baking, shaking or cooking this week and next, I’ll be reading. I’m in the middle of “First Comes Marriage,” by Huda Al-Marashi. Up next is Bel Canto—before the movie comes out! The last three books I read were: “Bitter Orange” by Claire Fuller (LOVED her book “Swimming Lessons”), “Lies that Bind” by Craig Smith, and “Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie—I was way late to this book and kicked myself for it because it was brilliant and enlightening and inspiring and so much more. Read it today if you too missed it when it was released. All of these books can be purchased at Napa Bookmine.

I hope you enjoy your holidays and especially the traditions you’ve created for yourself.


Serves 4

San Francisco is famous for its cioppino, fish stew. This recipe is similar to the style of fish stew you’d find at the wharf, but its true origins are the fishing towns of Italy, which all have their own version. It’s a typical Christmas Eve dish, when seafood makes up a traditional menu.

Red wine and fish? Definitely! Although a landlocked Italian by ancestry, Robert Mondavi knows a thing or two about Italian cuisine, and no doubt he’d approve of this fish stew being paired with his Robert Mondavi Reserve Pinot Noir. How could he not? The Pinot’s fruitiness and subtle spice from oak is a light enough to not overwhelm the fish and yet bold enough to not be overwhelmed by the tomato sauce. True, this match is a little like a well-played chess game, but it works and everyone wins.

3 Tbsp olive oil

1 stalk celery, diced fine

2 large shallots, minced

3 cloves garlic, 2 smashed, 1 halved

Pinch of crushed red pepper

1 cup white wine

18 clams, scrubbed to remove any sand

3 cups chopped tomatoes

1 (8-oz) bottle clam juice

1 tsp dried basil

1/2 tsp dried oregano

8 oz snapper, cut into 2-inch pieces

6 oz  shrimp, peeled and deveined

4 oz halibut, cut into 2-inch pieces

8 oz fresh crab (meat if you’re lazy like me or pieces for more flavor)

2 Tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

4 (1-inch-thick) slices sourdough bread

Heat 2 Tbsp of the olive oil in a large high-sided skillet with lid, over medium heat. Add the celery, shallots, smashed garlic, and crushed red pepper. Cook, stirring, until the shallots are softened, about 3 minutes. Add the wine and bring to a boil. Add the clams, cover and cook until the clams are opened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer the clams with tongs or a slotted spoon to a bowl. Discard any that stay shut.

Stir in the tomatoes, clam juice, basil and oregano and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered, for 30 minutes. Stir in the snapper, shrimp, and halibut and cook until they begin to turn opaque. Stir in the crab. Reserve 10 clams in the shells. Remove the rest of the clams from their shells and add to the pot. Cook until the clams are heated through. Stir in the parsley, season to taste with salt and pepper, and keep warm.

Preheat the broiler.

Brush one side of the bread with the remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil and place under the broiler until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn and toast the other side for about 1 minute. Rub each piece with the cut side of the halved garlic.

Spoon the stew into warmed bowls. Top each with a slice of bread and serve.