Sunday, September 27, 2020

My Dinner with Ruth @lesliekarst

 LUCY BURDETTE: When Ruth Bader Ginsburg died last week, I thought instantly of my friend Leslie Karst. I remembered that she knew RBG and has written a memoir about cooking dinner for the Ginsburgs. (I've read it, it's excellent, and I hope we'll see it out in the world soon!) Leslie agreed graciously to write a post about this for us.

LESLIE KARST: History will remember Ruth Bader Ginsburg for many things, including her tireless and passionate work with the ACLU as an advocate for women’s rights, her thirteen years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit, her twenty-seven years as justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and, recently, her rock-star status as the “Notorious R.B.G.,” inspiring “I dissent!” tattoos and jewelry in the shape of her famous lace collars. 

But to me, she was also a family friend.

RBG and me

My father and “Ruth,” as he always referred to her, became close back in the 1960s, when he was teaching at the Ohio State Law School and she was teaching at Rutgers and later at Columbia. They had both been involved in comparative law—Dad with Latin American land reform issues, and Ruth with Swedish civil procedure. (Yes, you read that right: Did you know that as a young lawyer, RBG learned Swedish and then helped translate the Swedish Code of Civil Procedure into English?)

The two stayed in touch over the years, and I grew up hearing stories about Ruth, as she and my father both moved on from comparative law to civil rights as their areas of study and advocacy—and she, eventually, on to the federal judiciary.

And then came the chance of a lifetime. Dad told me he’d invited Ruth to come speak at the UCLA Law School, where he now taught, and she had accepted. Only half-serious, I suggested that I come down to Los Angeles and cook dinner for Ruth and her husband Marty at my parents’ house. 

I’d expected Dad to merely laugh, in that “ha-ha, that’s a ridiculous notion” kind of way, but instead he cocked his head and looked at me, then said quite seriously, “That sounds like a great idea.” 

What had I gotten myself into?

I spent the next nine months planning and fretting, as I worked out the menu for a Supreme Court justice and her world-renowned tax law professor husband—both of whom I knew to be devout foodies. 

And when the evening finally arrived, I sat in my parents living room shaking in my boots. 

But I needn’t have worried. Ruth—though taciturn and serious, as was her wont—was absolutely lovely. And even more so as the evening wore on and the six of us (my parents; the Ginsburgs; my wife, Robin; and me) consumed all six of the bottles of wine I’d purchased for the dinner. 

Ruth, my dad, and me

And Marty was as charming as could be, enthusiastically digging into the food I’d prepared while regaling the table with hilarious stories—some regarding his wife, who simply smiled and nodded in response. Here are a few tidbits we learned that evening:

Ruth would routinely consume fourteen cups of coffee a day.

She once got her car stuck atop a bollard which had risen up as she tried to enter the DC Circuit Court parking lot after another car without waiting her turn.

The purse she carried (at least that night) was very heavy—weighing at least five pounds.

I’ve written a memoir of my experience planning, cooking, and attending the dinner—tentatively entitled Cooking for Ruth—which I hope will be published some time soon. But in the meantime, here’s a peek at the menu I served:

Seared Sea Scallop with Ginger-Lime Cream Sauce

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Brown Butter

Garnished with Crème Fraîche, Chopped Walnuts, and Walnut Oil




Baby Spinach Salad with Blood Orange, Red Onion, Dried Cranberries, 

Pine Nuts, Gorgonzola Cheese, and Dijon Vinaigrette Dressing

Blackened Ahi Coated in a Dry-Rub of Spices and Black Sesame Seeds

Served with Wasabi Mashed Potatoes and Snow Peas

A Selection of Pastries from Amandine Patisserie in Los Angeles

Robin and I saw Ruth several times after the big dinner. Whenever we were in Washington, DC, she’d invite us to the Supreme Court, and after watching the day’s arguments we’d chat with the justice in her chambers. (My attendance at Malice Domestic was twice the occasion for such visits with Ruth.)


RBG bobblehead in her chambers

The last contact I had with Ruth was last summer, to let her know that my father had passed away. She recorded a beautiful testimonial for his memorial service at the UCLA Law School, which you can watch here:  

I will miss you Ruth. Thank you for dedicating your own life to bettering ours. 

About Leslie:


The daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst learned early, during family dinner conversations, the value of both careful analysis and the arts—ideal ingredients for a mystery story. Putting this early education to good use, she now writes the Sally Solari Mysteries (Dying for a Taste, A Measure of Murder, Death al Fresco, Murder from Scratch), a culinary series set in Santa Cruz, California. An ex-lawyer like her sleuth, Leslie also has degrees in English literature and the culinary arts. 

Visit Leslie at lesliekarstauthor.com 

Leslie blogs at chicksonthecase.com and mysteryloverskitchen.com 



About Murder from Scratch:


Sally’s life is already plenty complicated, what with running the popular and bustling Gauguin and dealing with irate cooks, scheduling headaches, and other staffing issues. So when her dad convinces her to take in a blind relative, Evelyn, whose mother has just died of a drug overdose, she’s none too happy. Sally’s cousin, however, turns out to be not only highly competent, but also lots of fun. And she’s a terrific cook, to boot—taught at an early age by her chef mom, Jackie. 

When moved objects around her house cause Evelyn to suspect that Jackie’s death was not the accident or suicide the police believe it to have been, she and Sally decide to investigate on their own. And Sally soon learns that Evelyn’s blindness makes her more attuned to her other senses, allowing her to discover clues that Sally would easily have missed. The cousins’ sleuthing takes them into the world of pop-up and Southeast Asian restaurants, macho commercial kitchens, and the cut-throat competitiveness that can flame up between chefs—especially when stolen recipes are at stake. 

“Karst seasons her writing with an accurate insider’s view of restaurant operation, as well as a tenderness in the way she treats family, death and Sally’s reactions to Evelyn’s blindness.”

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine


65 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. What wonderful memories, Leslie; thanks for sharing them with us . . . and your dinner sounds amazing!
    I’ll look forward to reading your “Cooking for Ruth” . . . .

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    1. Thank you, Joan--it was indeed amazing!

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    2. Leslie's late father, Kenneth Karst was a highly respected and beloved professor at UCLA School of Law. How lucky I was to be in his Constitutional law class.

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  3. Leslie, I’m so envious! What a gift to have that memory. And one question: would you come and cook for me? It sounded amazing

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  4. What a wonderful opportunity and memory. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. I am still pretty emotional about this and I didn't even know her personally. Thank you for sharing these wonderful memories, Leslie. I remember hearing some of them at the LCC That Never Was. Crazy to think of where we were in the world at that time, and where we are now.

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    1. Yeah, I can't stop crying when I think about it all. So so sad...

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  6. I have also read this manuscript and absolutely loved it. Readers should know that it's about more than the dinner. In subtle ways, Leslie weaves in the story of Ginsburg's long years of legal/civil rights work, her challenges and triumphs, with the story of the meal planning and execution. And, being a retired lawyer herself, Leslie knows what she's talking about.

    I hope the book will get out into the world soon, dear Leslie!

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    1. Thank you, Edith--that's so sweet! My agent is shopping the m.s. right now, so fingers crossed...

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  7. What splendid things can happen when we say, "Why don't I do...x?" and then launch ourselves into doing it. The meal sounds mouth watering and the book sounds terrific, Leslie. I'll read it whenever it's published. Fingers crossed it's available soon!

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    1. You are so right, Amanda--it is indeed splendid! And thank you!

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  8. Leslie, that was a brave gesture, offering to make that meal. Sounds like an epic undertaking. And that menu! Wow. What a great way to frame what had to be an evening of amazing conversation.

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    1. Thanks, Karen. It was a bit scary--but truly amazing.

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  9. What a lovely memory to have. And the menu sounded wonderful.

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  10. What a wonderful experience! Did you feel like you were in the presence of royalty? And that meal - wow!

    I definitely want to read your book.

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  11. Wow! What an amazing opportunity. I think your father was wise to accept your offer to cook. How do you develop a menu like that? It seems like a very rich array of foods, many of which I couldn't eat without consequences due to allergies. What conversations did you have in advance to plan the menu? Where does the formal five-course meal with wines fit into our culture of fast casual dining? What a loss that long conversations around the dinner table seem to be a luxury now.

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    1. True, Gigi . A dinner party. So sad to remember.

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    2. Gigi, all that info--and more--is in the book, so hopefully it will get published soon!

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  12. She learned Swedish???? Six bottles of wine ? Wasabi mashed potatoes? I am swooning in every way. Thank you, Leslie, for this. And thank you, Ruth.

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  13. I loved reading this - Thanks for sharing, Leslie.

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  14. Welcome, Leslie, and how can we help with getting COOKING FOR RUTH published? I'd order it right now. How wonderful for you to have been in her company. Right now I'm watched CBS Sunday Morning with Leslie Stahl. They gave short shrift to Cheetolini's nomination for the court. As it should be.

    I did order a copy of MURDER FROM SCRATCH though, looking forward to reading it.

    And to all of you here who celebrate Yom Kippur, may you be inscribed and sealed for a wonderful year ahead.

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    1. Thank you so much, Ann. I will tell my agent what you said! And here's wishing you--and everyone--a truly happy new year. We certainly need it.

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  15. What a wonderful post, Leslie! What a wonderful experience. And the menu!!! I can't wait to read the memoir, so crossing my fingers that your agent finds a home for it asap.

    And now going to look for Murder From Scratch!!

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  16. Just getting to these comments, as it's still early here in California. Thank you Lucy/Roberta for inviting me to share this memory of the magnificent RBG, and thanks to all the Reds, as well. It was cathartic to get to write it, as it's been a very hard week. And thank you to all the readers, for your lovely thoughts and comments.

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  17. What a fabulous evening. I would have been terrified creating a simple menu for a meal for a meal for such important people the the country and your father, but six courses is beyond my comprehension. I always feel like I'm going to say the wrong thing around people of great influence but sounds like you had a great time with a lovely family and just talk and listened to good stories. I hope your book comes out soon. I can think of about 5000 people I know that would want to read it. Okay, actually maybe not 500, I don't know that many people, but it's definitely more than 10 people.

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  18. I love this so much, Leslie. Thanks for sharing your story with us. RBG will be sorely missed.

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    1. Indeed she will, Jenn. Thanks to the Reds for inviting me to share this story with your readers.

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  19. Welcome to Jungle Reds, Leslie. Your story about cooking for Ruth and her husband is wonderful! Thank you for sharing your story. And your menu looks wonderful. Your story about the Supreme Court reminds me of when I visited the Supreme Court with my boyfriend who worked at the Supreme Court. He gave me a tour of the Supreme Court. My grandfather was an attorney who appeared before the Supreme Court to argue a case (He lost). When my Mom and I visited Vancouver for the Left Coast Crime conference, we watched a movie with Felicity Jones and Armie Hammer as RBG and Martin. RBG will be missed.

    Diana

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    1. That's great that you got a tour of the Court, Diana! Amazing, isn't it? The script for that movie was penned by RBG's nephew, by the way.

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  20. Leslie, this is amazing, both the interactions with RBG and the menu, which literally set my stomach growling as I read it. I think "My Dinner with RBG" has terrific potential - and it's so good to know someone you admired and looked up to was also, in private, a kind and generous person. Thank you for sharing this glimpse of her with us.

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    1. You are welcome, Julia, and thank you! I plan to have the recipes in the book!

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  21. What a wonderful remembrance. Thank you so much for sharing.

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    1. You're welcome, Barb. It was cathartic to write it and relive the memories...

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  22. This is a lovely memory. Thank you for sharing. I still get emotional when reading stories and tributes to Justice Ginsburg. She was my legal hero long before she sat on the Supreme Court; her tireless work for gender equality is in large part why my law school class was over 50% female. Cooking for Ruth sounds like a lovely book and tribute. I'm hopeful your agent is able to find a publisher as this is something I would read, and it would make a lovely gift for my mother and sister.

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    1. I felt the same way when I was in law school, Peggy. Thank you, RBG.

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  23. Thank you for sharing this and for putting a human face on the Notorious RBG, what a wonderful remembrance. You, and your family, have my condolences. The country has lost an icon, but you have lost a friend.

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  24. What a fun experience, and I'm sure the food was amazing, Leslie. Thanks for sharing this. I was happy to hear Ruth's comments about your Dad--the tremendous respect and affection she had for him was more than evident.

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    1. Thank you, Ginny. Yes, that tribute she recorded for my dad always makes me cry.

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  25. Wow! Leslie, I am so impressed with your confidence in cooking for Judge Ginsburg and her husband, especially since learning what a grand cook Marty was. You should have won some sort of Olympic reward for bravery and talent. The menu sounds absolutely mouth-watering, and the picture of the soup mirrors perfection. Your father must have been so proud. That was certainly a night of nights for anyone. I so want to read your memoir. I listened to RBG's tribute to your father, and it was lovely and awe-inspiring. What an accomplished man. Thank you for sharing this personal experience with RBG with us today, Leslie.

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    1. Thank you, Kathy--you brought a tear to my eye.

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  26. Leslie, this is an amazing post! Thank you for sharing. RBG. RIP. Vote!!!
    Jim

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  27. I so enjoyed reading your story, Leslie. I love how you entertain with dinner and hope it's not too long before we're able to share a relaxing meal after you and Robin arrive back in Hawai'i. Oh, and add my name to the long list of people who are awaiting your book!

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    1. Thanks, Robin! And yes, it will be fun to break (and eat) bread with you again!

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  28. Leslie, I love this so much. I know I instantly thought of you when she passed. I can’t wait until your book is published!

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  29. OMG! What a fabulous, fabulous story. I am agog. And thanks so much for sharing it, Leslie. When this memoir come out, please let the world know. We will all want to buy it.

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    1. Thank you, Heather! And I shall, you can be sure!

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  30. Question for Lucy, thinking of recipes...Does the Hot Fudge Pie in your Death in Four Courses that calls for 3 squares of unsweetened chocolate mean the former 1 oz squares? I just bought some and realized the squares are now just a 1/2 oz each :(
    Thanks!

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  31. Loved your story and your menu for the memorable dinner. Thank you for sharing it. And I want to read the longer version.

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    1. Thanks, Maya! And congrats on the release of Gingerdead Man today!!

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  32. Gosh, thanks so much for sharing. I enjoyed the read and your awesome Ruth memory. I do wish you good luck on your Ruth book, I'll be anxious to read it!

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