The Cookbook That Started Food Editor Shira Bocar's Career
Getting invited to a meal at Shira Bocar’s house is a big deal. That’s because the food editor and host of the Healthy Appetite series on MarthaStewart.com is, unsurprisingly, pretty fucking fantastic when it comes to food. She’s also weird and hilarious and—full disclosure—one of Jayna’s closest friends. For her Haystack Story she chose a cookbook from an old boyfriend whose amazing kitchen skills (almost) made up for his inability to tell the truth about anything, literally ever.
Name: Shira Bocar
Occupation: Food Editor at Large, Martha Stewart Living
Location: New York
What’s the star of your Haystack Story?
How to Cook Everything, by Mark Bittman
Do you still have it?
Tell us about it.
It's a 1998 edition, full of notes, recipes torn from newspapers and magazines, post-its, old grocery lists, party menus. Definitely one of the most beat up cookbooks in my collection. It started out lemon yellow, but now it's a grimy mustard. The binding is shot to hell, and because so many sections can be removed entirely, this is my only cookbook that lays perfectly flat on the counter. It has the most absurd inscription that makes me smile every time I open it.
Why is it so perfect?
This book was given to me by a chef I was dating. He lived in the building next door (we could spy on each other through our kitchen windows.) He was older, very tall, surfed at Rockaway, had dyed copper highlights, and cooked for a living. He was also a pathological liar, so our romance was not long for this world. But man, this book got me psyched to get in the kitchen. My roommate and I would pore over the chapters, and flag new projects: homemade mixed berry pie, coconut macaroons, anchovy pasta, lemon bars, pureed vegetable soups. Some stuff turned out well on the first try (pesto!), other stuff took a few years to master (risotto.)
Amazingly, this book survived my pug puppy, Frank, who was really into eating hardcovers and eyeglasses.
How does it make you feel?
Like drinking deli coffee, listening to Belle and Sebastian skip on my disc man, bleaching my hair platinum, dividing monthly utilities with roommates, kind of not knowing what I'm doing in the kitchen but hoping I'd get better.
If it could talk what would it say?
Stop dating line cooks and go to culinary school.
When did you get it?
Who did you have a crush on back then?
Jeff Buckley, Ralph Fiennes, Edward Norton
What did your Friday nights look like?
I'd go out to eat with friends in the East Village. Il Bagatto had a great fish special on Friday nights. Sometimes we'd set up camp at La Gould Finch. Chez Es Saada if we were being fancy. Then we'd try to convince a cab to drive back to Brooklyn (or hop on the F train) and grab a nightcap at our local bar, Johnny Mack's.
If someone gave you $20 to spend, what would you have bought?
A round of drinks at Johnny Mack's.
What show did you rush home to watch?
What was your favorite snack?
Milky Dessert (a scoop of ice cream stirred with milk until slushy, served in a juice glass). I was also really into Zone bars.
Who were you then, and who are you now?
I still have a thing for tall, dark, handsome men who like to surf. I've stopped dying my hair.