1. For the Mushroom Duxelles Filling: Heat butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat until foaming. Add onion (or shallots) and cook, stirring, until tender, about 3 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring, until water has released and evaporated, about 3 minutes. Continue to […]
Month: May 2018
[Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt, Daniel Gritzer, Joshua Bousel] Memorial Day is right around the corner, and that means grilling season is officially here. Your holiday cookout preparations are probably focused on burgers, skewers, and other grilled mains, but don’t forget about the side dishes. Though […]
Sunday brunch, or any-morning brunch, is better with warm, golden waffles. Crisp and light and scented with vanilla, waffles are the shape of a perfect breakfast, cupping pools of melted butter and maple for a lavish start to the day. Even though there’s always a place in my heart for frozen Eggos, nothing beats the taste of homemade waffles, and making your own lets you skip the busy brunch rush. A great waffle iron and Stella’s recipes for buttermilk or yeasted waffles make homemade waffles a cinch.
We rigorously tested the top 12 models ranging in price from $20 to $125 (at the time of testing) to find you the ones that consistently make the best waffles—ones that are crisp and golden on the outside while still fluffy and moist on the inside, ready to mop up country gravy, runny yolks, or warm maple syrup. We want waffle irons that reheat quickly so you can feed a crowd. We also want ones that are easy to clean, store, and operate. Because waffle irons are bonus, luxury appliances, we’ve found winners that we’re confident are worth the splurge (and counter space)—tools you’ll want to reach for any time of day. For those who don’t want to spend a lot, we’ve also picked our favorite budget models; they don’t work quite as well, but, with bonus features like removable plates for easy cleaning, we think they’re worth considering.
Our Favorites, at a Glance
The Best Flip Belgian-Waffle Maker: Cuisinart Double Belgian Waffle Maker
If picture-perfect waffles are a must-have, then this flip model is the pick for you. The flip function makes it easy to distribute the batter from edge to edge, without worrying about overflow. The Cuisinart waffle maker heats up and cooks waffles fast, producing a crisp outer shell and fluffy interior. Its heavy plates heat evenly and retain the heat well, so batch after batch of waffles turns out consistently browned. This iron quickly makes two large waffles at a time and reheats rapidly, so it can handle a lot of growling stomachs. This model also features an on/off switch, allowing you to always have it set up on your counter for waffles on the fly.
The Best High-End Belgian-Waffle Maker: All-Clad Stainless Steel Belgian Waffle Maker
This waffle iron was the priciest of the units we tested, but the waffles that it produced were so evenly browned, so delicately crisp on the outside while fluffy on the inside, that we believe it’s the best option for Belgian waffles. This All-Clad model features extra-deep divots, for Belgian-style waffles with maximum butter and syrup capacity. It makes two waffles at a time and contains a drip tray for minimizing spills and messes. The heavy stainless steel body and die-cast plates heat up fast and evenly for consistent browning.
The Best High-End American-Waffle Maker: Breville No Mess Waffle Maker
The Breville quickly produces crispy brown waffles, with the most consistent color of all the batches we tested, making it the best option if you prefer the thinner type of American waffle. The waffles managed to be perfectly crispy, without becoming dry, and maintained some fluffiness within. Although it makes only one waffle at a time, it reheats and cooks rapidly, so you can crank out waffle after waffle with ease. The built-in drip tray, nonstick surface, and minimal design keep cleanup effortless.
The Best Budget Belgian-Waffle Maker: Krups Adjustable Temperature Waffle Maker With Removable Plates
With its large cooking surface, the affordable Krups waffle maker is the best for feeding a crowd on a budget. It has a large enough capacity to make four waffles at a time, but still tucks away easily, with locked handles for upright storage and a cord that coils away underneath. The removable plates are dishwasher-safe, making cleanup quick and easy.
The Best Budget American-Waffle Maker: Black+Decker 3-in-1 Waffle Maker With Reversible Plates
If you’re tight on space and money, the Black+Decker offers the most bang for your buck for thin, American-style waffles. It produces waffles that are thin and crunchy on the outside, with some chewiness on the inside; it makes four square waffles, with shallow wells, at a time; and its reversible plates and adjustable hinge convert it into a panini press for toasting thick sandwiches. The unit also opens up to lie completely flat as a griddle for eggs, pancakes, and more, making this a cheap all-in-one breakfast station. The plates are fully removable and dishwasher-safe for fast and easy cleanup.
The Criteria: What We Look for in a Great Waffle Iron
There are countless styles of waffles, including the light and crisp Italian gofri, the sugar-speckled Belgian liège, and the charming, heart-shaped Scandinavian vafler. For our testing we decided to limit ourselves to the two most common waffle styles in the United States, broadly divided into the “American” and “Belgian” categories. Although there are dozens of varieties of “Belgian” waffles alone, for marketing purposes, thicker waffles with deeper wells are considered Belgian, while shallow, thinner ones are categorized as American or “regular.” Both American and Belgian waffles can be made in either a circle or a square shape, so it’s up to you to decide which form is more waffle-y to you.
The mechanisms of all stand-alone waffle irons are pretty much the same, and relatively unchanged from those of their stovetop predecessors. Traditional waffle makers consist of two molded cast iron plates connected by a hinge, and feature a long handle to keep your hand out of the heat. The iron is preheated over a stove before the batter is added, and the waffle is manually flipped. These traditional styles work well, but they require some coordination on the cook’s part, as well as attention to heat regulation.
Electric waffle irons are made of two plates similarly set into a hinged body, which is heated through electric coils housed in the unit behind the plates. Some of these electric waffle makers have basic plug-and-play designs, while others offer variable heat settings, timers, and indicator lights telling you when your waffle is ready. For this review, we looked only at electric waffle makers and excluded stovetop waffle irons, since success with the latter has more to do with the cook’s skill and the heat source than differences in design.
Our goal was to determine which waffle irons offered consistent results with minimal effort, even heating for uniform browning, and a short reheat time so you can tackle waffles for a crowd. We also wanted waffle irons that were easy to clean, store, and handle, so you’ll want to reach for them over and over again.
Waffles: Buttermilk, Yeasted, and Boxed Mix
First, we have to identify what makes a good waffle. Regardless of whether you prefer your waffle light golden or dark brown, it should be crisp on the outside and light and fluffy on the inside. We always want a waffle that’s evenly cooked, free of burnt centers or pale edges; it should also be the same color on both sides. The key to achieving this is a waffle maker with coils that get hot enough to quickly cook the waffles, coupled with heavy plates to better retain the heat. A waffle iron that gets and stays hot can cook the batter surface more quickly, setting it into a crisp shell while keeping the inside moist and light. Waffles that take too long to cook end up dense, flabby, and leathery. We found that the best waffles were cooked in under four minutes.
We made several rounds of waffles, using three different batters, in each of the models being tested. We took note of how long they took to heat up, to cook the batter, and to reheat for the next batch of batter. We also judged the taste, texture, and appearance of the resulting waffles.
For our first round of testing, we made waffles using Stella’s buttermilk waffle batter. This batter relies on steam to puff the waffles, so it has a high level of hydration for a light and crisp result. With this batter, we found significant differences in the quality of the waffles made by each iron. Irons that didn’t get hot enough weren’t able to produce enough steam, resulting in heavy, dense, and soggy waffles, while those that heated up well produced very light and crisp waffles.
This batter also benefited the most from the flip mechanism found in some of the irons we tested, likely due to the fact that it’s a thinner batter that flows flat into the iron. (The flip design delivers even heating by making sure that a thin batter receives equal contact with the plates on both the top and the bottom.) The waffles resulting from this batter browned more evenly in the flip models than in the stationary ones, with the exception of our high-end picks, the Breville and All-Clad, both of which performed excellently. Ultimately, though, aside from our top-rated flip model, we’d steer you toward our other top picks, including the budget ones, even though they’re stationary: They produced better waffles overall due to higher heat and shorter cook time, despite their uneven browning.
For the second round of waffle testing, we used Stella’s overnight yeasted waffle batter. Although this batter also relies on steam to power the rise, the fermentation by the yeast fills the batter with air bubbles even before the creation of steam, so it gets a one-two punch of leavening. This batter was thicker than the buttermilk batter due to the air bubbles it contained, which meant there was no difference between waffles made in a flip waffle maker and those made in a non-flip unit. The same irons that performed poorly due to inadequate heating in the previous test fell short here as well, but with less dramatic results, because steam isn’t the only leavening agent in this batter.
Our final round of waffles was made out of Aunt Jemima waffle mix, prepared according to the package’s instructions. These waffles use a combination of chemical leavening and steam from the added liquid to result in the rise of the waffles. The waffles made with this batter were consistently dense and cake-like in all the waffle makers, but the color came out evenly brown in all machines. Where we found variations was in the crispness of the crusts, with machines that were hotter yielding thinner and crispier crusts. With this batter, we also found no differences between flip and non-flip units. If you make waffles mostly with a boxed mix, you can definitely get away with using a cheaper iron, since the differences were closer to minimal.
Because waffle irons are more of a kitchen extravagance than an absolute necessity, we decided to test out a few non-waffle items in the machines just for kicks—the more versatile these tools can be, the better. We waffled up some grilled cheese and sage stuffing to see how the machines would do. As we’ve seen in the past, a waffle iron may be the best tool to make things like grilled cheese: The divots become extra crisp, with cheese oozing out and forming a crackling frico, while the peaks remain soft and chewy. The nonstick surface ensures no bits of stuffing or bread are left behind. The results of this test followed the trend of the previous ones, with our high-end picks edging out the rest.
High-End Versus Low-End
With all three batters, as well as our bonus rounds of stuffing and grilled cheese, there was a clear difference in the quality of results between higher-end, more expensive models and lower-end, budget models. The high-end models heated up significantly faster and hotter, and had a much shorter recovery time between waffles. They all have heavier plates than the lower-end models, resulting in even heat and consistent browning. The waffles made in our more expensive models all became deeply browned in under four minutes, while the less expensive models took anywhere from eight to 15 minutes. This resulted in huge variations in the density of the inside and the texture of the exterior of the waffles.
That said, the price differences between the high-end and low-end models are also significant, with the budget models ranging between $20 and $60 while the expensive models reached upwards of $125. Even though the budget models we chose as winners did not brown as evenly or result in waffles with near the quality of the expensive models, they still outperformed their peers. Our winning budget models also offer removable, dishwasher-safe plates, making them far easier to clean than our high-end winners, a much-appreciated feature that we feel makes them worth recommending.
Extra Features and Ease of Use
Some of the models we tested come fully loaded with features, while others are more bare-bones. The question is which of these bonus features, if any, are worth having. Almost all the waffle makers come equipped with adjustable heat settings, a feature we found mostly useless, since there’s almost never a situation in which you’d want anything less than maximum heat. It’s a feature that’s even more vexing on the losing low-end models, which, even at their highest settings, were not very hot. (There were some exceptions to this: Our winning flip waffle maker got so hot that we appreciated being able to turn the heat down.)
Most waffle makers also come with a timer or indicator light to tell you the waffle is ready. But in almost all instances, the waffles require more time than the indicators suggest, rendering the feature unhelpful at best and misleading at worst.
Electric waffle irons are available in flip and stationary models. Proponents of flip waffle makers suggest that they heat more evenly by better distributing the batter throughout the plates. After testing both styles with different batters to see if this was truly a useful feature, we found that our three high-end picks cooked all the batters on the top and the bottom evenly. There was no difference between our flip model and a high-end stationary model. We did, however, find the flip a useful function when comparing lower-end models cooking the thinner buttermilk batter. Ultimately, we didn’t pick any low-end flip models because, although they may have heated more evenly than our budget picks, they cooked the batter so slowly that the waffles ended up too dense and heavy.
There was one area in which the flip proved useful, which was creating full waffles with batter that flowed from edge to edge without overflowing the iron. With a stationary model, you’re left to depend on just the weight of the top plate to spread out the batter, which often requires you to overfill it to reach the edges, particularly with square waffles. With a flip model, you also get some help from the rotational movement to distribute the batter, making it easier to completely fill the plates with less batter.
The features we found particularly useful were removable plates and drip trays for easy cleanup, as well as cord storage and locking handles, which allow for upright storage.
How We Chose Our Winners
Our winners consistently made the best waffles, ones that browned evenly and quickly and turned out crisp and light. They also had useful features that made them easy to use, clean, and store.
The Best Flip Belgian-Waffle Maker: Cuisinart Double Belgian Waffle Maker
What we liked: The Cuisinart waffle maker was the hottest of all the irons we tested, making waffles in just over three minutes. The waffles it produced were light and fluffy on the inside, with a delicate and crisp crust. They had deep divots for holding lots of syrup and butter, and a traditional round shape. Because the iron gets so hot, the adjustable temperature is actually a useful feature, unlike on most of the other waffle irons we tested.
This model is also equipped with an on/off switch, which people with large kitchens may find useful, as it makes it easier to keep it set up on a counter without having to unplug after each use (especially helpful if your outlets are in inconvenient places, and repeatedly plugging and unplugging is a hassle). It makes two seven-inch waffles at a time, with a two-minute recovery time, allowing you to make waffles for a crowd. The flip function means it evenly cooks thicker and thinner batters alike and requires less batter to fill edge to edge.
What we didn’t like: This is a big and bulky unit, making it a difficult fit in small spaces. Without a drip tray, there is potential for mess. (However, because it’s a flip model, you need less batter to fill up the iron, so drips are also less likely.) There was some unevenness in cooking, with the edges browning a touch faster than the rest. The deep wells and fixed plates make cleanup difficult.
The Best High-End Belgian-Waffle Maker: All-Clad Stainless Steel Belgian Waffle Maker
What we liked: The All-Clad is well built and sturdy, and heats up quickly and evenly for perfectly crisp, light, and consistent waffles. The crunchy, golden waffles made with this model are tall and square, with deep nooks. The All-Clad makes two waffles at a time in under four minutes and reheats fast, requiring just two minutes between batches. It browns evenly along the surface and between the top and the bottom of the waffle, even without a flip mechanism. A drip tray is fitted to the back of the unit to contain spills for easy cleanup. This unit is also compact, as it’s equipped with cord storage and locking handles.
What we didn’t like: At over $100 (we’ve seen significant price fluctuations on this unit on Amazon, with a low point of around $125), it’s an investment, best for avid waffle fans.
The Best High-End American-Waffle Maker: Breville No Mess Waffle Maker
What we liked: The Breville made crispy and light American-style waffles in three to four minutes. The waffles made in this model come out round, thin, and crispy, yet manage to maintain a soft interior. Even though it makes only one waffle at a time, the Breville reheats and is ready for another waffle in under two minutes, so it can make a greater quantity of waffles in the same amount of time as many larger models. This model also heated the most evenly of all the brands we tested, both across the surface of the waffle and when comparing the top and bottom. With a built-in drip tray, this unit remains true to its “no mess” name. Equipped with convenient cord storage, a locking handle, and a slim design, it’s easy to store in tight spaces or small kitchens.
What we didn’t like: At over $100, this waffle maker is also an investment.
The Best Budget Belgian-Waffle Maker: Krups Adjustable Temperature Waffle Maker With Removable Plates
What we liked: This large and affordable unit makes four waffles at a time. The square waffles produced by this model don’t feature wells as deep as those of the Cuisinart or All-Clad, but they are chewy and tender, with crispy edges and peaks. The removable, dishwasher-safe plates are our favorite feature, as deeper-welled Belgian-waffle makers can be difficult to clean. This waffle iron is particularly worth considering if you typically use a store-bought waffle mix, which is less sensitive to inconsistent heating than homemade batter. The cord storage and locking handles make the Krups simple to store, even with its large capacity.
What we didn’t like: The cooking time and reheating time on this model are slow—about 10 minutes to cook one round and about eight minutes to reheat. The resulting waffles are denser and softer than those made in the high-end waffle irons. We also found that the tops of the waffles from this model are much paler in color than the bottoms.
The Best Budget American-Waffle Maker: Black+Decker 3-in-1 Waffle Maker With Reversible Plates
What we liked: This compact and lightweight model from Black+Decker is a great multitasker for any small kitchen. It makes thin waffles with shallow wells, crispy on the outside and slightly chewy on the inside. On average, it makes waffles in about eight minutes—longer than ideal, but still respectable compared with other affordable options. The large surface makes four square four-inch waffles at a time, but it still has a low profile, making it a good fit in tight spaces. The plates on this unit are reversible, revealing a flat griddle, which opens up into a large cooking surface for eggs and pancakes and can accommodate large sandwiches with its adjustable hinge. The plates are removable and dishwasher-safe.
What we didn’t like: This model struggled to heat evenly, often resulting in waffles that were lighter in the center than at the edges.
Here are notes on the other models we tested for this review:
- The Chef’sChoice WafflePro Express Waffle Maker comes packed with features, such as a locking handle and cord storage, making it convenient to tuck away upright; two indicator lights; and an on/off switch, allowing you to store the unit plugged in (the only model besides our winning Cuisinart equipped with such a switch). Unfortunately, the waffles it produced were highly uneven in color, with pale edges and one side much darker than the other.
- The Hamilton Beach Belgian Waffle Maker is a compact and lightweight model featuring indicator lights, variable temperature, and a locking handle. But it never got very hot during our tests, resulting in the batter sticking to the iron. That also meant long cook times, leading to leathery and dense waffles.
- We also tested the flip model from Hamilton Beach, the Hamilton Beach Flip Belgian Waffle Maker. It has a drip tray and removable plates for easy cleanup, and, although this unit is larger, the handle folds in for easier storage. Similar to the other Hamilton Beach model, though, this unit did not heat up well, which led to sticking and dense waffles.
- The Oster Belgian Waffle Maker was one of the lowest-priced models we tested. It is small, compact, and lightweight, with minimal features. Despite its slight design, without a locking handle or cord storage, upright storage is difficult. The waffles it produced were pale even after 10 minutes, and they came out dense and soggy as a result.
- The Oster Flip Nonstick Belgian Waffle Maker nearly made it to the winners’ list. Its design is similar to that of the Hamilton Beach, featuring a drip tray for easy cleanup and a folding handle for compact storage. The waffles it produced were evenly browned, but, once again, they required too much time to cook, resulting in dense and soggy waffles.
- The Presto FlipSide Waffle Maker flips from side to side on a hinge, rather than with a rotary motion, like the other models we tested. It does not feature a locking handle, however, so the side-to-side flipping motion easily leads to spilled batter. The unit heats up quickly but never gets very hot, resulting in a long cook time. It features a one- or two-minute timer to indicate when to flip, but the waffles take upwards of 10 minutes to brown, so each waffle requires frequent beeping.
- The Proctor Silex Belgian Waffle Maker has a flimsy design and no extra features. Without a cool-touch handle, the entire body of this unit becomes extremely hot, making it difficult to lift the lid. Many of the waffles stuck to the plates, making it hard to clean and use.
[Photographs: Vicky Wasik] Bakers are always on the prowl for the “best” chocolate cake, but I find “best” is best defined by the occasion—a generous slab of down home Texas sheet cake is perfect for family reunions and backyard barbecues, but for that New Year’s […]
1. For the Frosting: Add milk chocolate to bowl of a stand mixer. In a 10-inch cast iron skillet, bring the cream to a simmer over medium heat. When bubbling hard around the edges, pour over milk chocolate in the stand mixer bowl. Whisk by […]
I don’t know how many serious eaters have heard of the brilliant, food-loving, and thought-provoking artist and writer Maira Kalman, but I’ve been a huge fan of hers for a long time now. So when I heard that she had recently co-written (with Barbara Scott-Goodman) and illustrated a cookbook, Cake, I knew I had to have her on Special Sauce.
Kalman worked with her late husband, Tibor, at the influential M & Co. design firm, where she worked on projects such as magazine covers and album design for David Byrne, and eventually took over the business. She’s also the author and/or illustrator of many books, including Beloved Dog, And the Pursuit of Happiness, and The Principles of Uncertainty, and she famously provided the art for a new edition of The Elements of Style. As an artist, Kalman seeks to represent joyful, meaningful moments: “All comfort is temporary. We know that to be a fact. But when you understand that, then you can really allow yourself to look at those moments during the day, and they become very important, and they’re very shining moments…. And I think those are the happiest moments that people have, when you’re alone and a fleeting something happens, and you feel a sense of joy. So, I’m looking for those.”
Having established that she’s passionate on the subject of food, we talked about Kalman’s ideal setting for a meal: “Room service breakfast in bed. Let’s start with the basics. Usually, I’ve spent time traveling a lot, and I order breakfast in bed because I want to see how they serve it and what the dishes are and what’s the tray in, what’s the napkin, and I photograph it, and I do drawings, and I’ve done pieces for magazines. So, it’s professional on my part. It’s professional research. But I adore all the trappings of table settings and what goes around it. I would like to work in a hotel. I worked as a maid in an Irish castle for a few weeks, and that was heaven. I can see doing that. I’d like to get a job in a hotel, serving somebody else breakfast.”
In this episode, you’ll hear (in great detail) about what she’d serve for that hotel breakfast, plus why she dislikes dinner parties and her special love for chairs that have been abandoned on the street. Next week, we’ll get into Kalman’s new book, Cake, but this week’s conversation will provide plenty of sustenance in the meantime.
You Could Be on Special Sauce
Want to chat with me and our unbelievably talented recipe developers? We’re accepting questions for Special Sauce call-in episodes now. Do you have a recurring argument with your spouse over the best way to maintain a cast iron skillet? Have you been working on your mac and cheese recipe for the past five years, but can’t quite get it right? Does your brother-in-law make the worst lasagna, and you want to figure out how to give him tips? We want to get to know you and solve all your food-related problems. Send us the whole story at [email protected].
Ed Levine: Welcome to Special Sauce, Serious Eats’ podcast about food and life. Every week on Special Sauce we talk to some of the leading lights of American culture, food folks and non-food folks alike.
Maira Kalman: I like the moments.
EL: And it’s only when we try to extend them that we get into trouble.
MK: Like a dinner party.
MK: Right? Who needs that? How long can you sit and make conversation with people? How long? I think it’s torture.
EL: This week, we are very excited to welcome artist, writer, illustrator, and above all, thinker and provocateur, Maira Kalman. Maira is the author of many books, including Beloved Dog, And the Pursuit of Happiness and The Principles of Uncertainty. She’s the illustrator of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules in hardcover, which I didn’t even know because I only have the soft covers.
MK: It’s after the fact.
EL: Yeah, exactly. And, the bestselling edition of the writers’ Bible, The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White. Maira’s work is shown at the Julie Saul Gallery Manhattan and has been collected for various museum exhibits and shows all over the country. A lot of them I’ve seen by the way. She has co-written illustrated the new book Cake. Welcome to Special Sauce, that multi-talented, prolific, and apparently food-obsessed Maira Kalman.
MK: Thank you very much, good to be here.
EL: I’m going to start with the first question I ask everybody on Special Sauce which is, tell me about life at the Kalman family table growing up.
MK: Well, there are different Kalman family tables. As a child, there was a lot of silence. There were different parts of the family, but my immediate family, there was a lot of silence. It was a lot of tension. And so, maybe not the most glowing memories on Earth. I had a larger family, extended family in Israel, which was very boisterous and fantastic with all the women, wonderful cooks, wonderful bakers and a lot of celebration and a lot of getting together and just talking and talking and talking. So, there were two very distinct features of my childhood.
EL: Even in Israel, like in Tel Aviv?
MK: Right. Well, what happened was that we left Tel Aviv when I was four. So, New York was a different tone, and going back to visit the family was a much warmer, lovelier, livelier tone.
EL: Tell me about the Tel Aviv extended family meals. What were you eating?
MK: We were eating a mix of Eastern European cooking—schnitzels and heavy meat dishes, even in a place like Israel where it was hot so much of the time. But of course, that culture was brought from Belarus and those dishes were blintzes and all of those Jewish cooking. And then there was the Middle Eastern eggplant and salads and fish, the beautiful bounty of the Middle East. So, they intersected in this really wonderful way.
EL: And people were baking their old bread and everything?
MK: Everything, everything. But of course, as in life in the city, there’s a wonderful person down the block with the little bake shop. So, okay, we’ll make things a little bit easier. The women worked like beasts both in Belarus and in Israel. Shopping and cooking and slaving away really from morning till night but never complaining, which is also kind of amazing.
EL: In New York, your mother, was she serious about cooking?
MK: Well, I don’t know if serious is the right word, but we had to eat and somebody had to make it and it was my mother, of course. But we did go out to restaurants a lot, and that was another aspect of life. Because in Israel, nobody thought of going out to a restaurant. And here, there was the experience of finding out what a basket of rolls was like at Patricia Murphy’s. Or going to Chock Full o’Nuts, you’re going to fancy restaurants and really my ideal life. I’d live in a hotel and I go to restaurants every night. There’s nothing at home at all. But my mother was a wonderful cook. She made eight things very well and stuck to them.
EL: So, there was a rhythm to the meal plan at your house.
MK: There was a rhythm. I don’t know what there was. It happened. As a child, you don’t ask who’s making it, where’s it coming from, it just appears and there you are.
EL: What was the conversation like at that table?
MK: Well, in New York, the conversation as I said was not so much. My parents were not a happy couple. And so, that probably translated into a stiffer kind of situation. I always had a good sense of humor, so I was the funny jokester.
EL: You could break the mood.
MK: I could try to break the mood. I broke the mood for myself. I don’t know what everybody else was thinking. I don’t even want to go there. Let’s leave. This is going to be very dark show about sad memories.
EL: I have this picture in my mind of you, even as a child in New York, just madly sketching away and writing phrases in a notebook, even as a child, no matter what was going on around you. Is that what it was like or am I just conjuring that front out of nowhere?
MK: You’re good conjurer. I was a very outgoing happy-go-lucky child, and when I was about seven or eight, I thought I was going to be a writer. So, I didn’t have journals or sketchbooks, I just would sit down and write stories. I read Pippi Longstocking and I thought, “That’s it, I’m going to be a writer. This is my kind of job.” My sister was the artist, so we kind of divided our turf. And then when I became disenchanted with my writing, I thought, “Well, what would be a great narrative way to tell a story and to do it sort of in a funnier, happier way?” Saul Steinberg had a great influence on me at the time that I said, “You can really do cartoon and art and words and there’s a place to do this.”
EL: Right. For people who don’t know, Saul Steinberg is amazing graphic artist, I guess, or artist in general, and he did the famous New Yorker cover where everything beyond the Hudson was … I had that poster framed, I think in college.
MK: Right. I think we all did. So, the sense of humor and pathos in the work was really something that struck me. I said, “You don’t have to always be funny, and you can switch between being serious and being playful.” That really became … And of course, you know children’s books have that combination also. So, I started to paint more seriously and became an illustrator because I loved books and magazines and I thought, “This is a wonderful job to have. I’m not an artist, I’m an Illustrator.”
EL: Well, you may think you’re an illustrator. I kind of think you’re an artist and I think you’re a really wonderful writer. You’re almost writing haikus when you write. It’s interesting that you mentioned that combination of sort of optimism and pathos in Steinberg’s work, because I also think about that a lot in your work. There are moments like there’s that line that you wrote that I just read again, which is watching someone eat soup breaks your heart. That’s poetry, and it’s incredibly resonant. And there’s pathos there, obviously, but there’s also you’re hinting at the comfort that someone may be only getting temporarily from the soup.
MK: All comfort is temporary. We know that to be a fact. But when you understand that, then you can really allow yourself to look at those moments during the day and they become very important and they’re very shining moments. So, it’s not just a big passing mush. It’s really, what are the important moments? They can seem so insignificant, but they’re really splendid and give you … And I think those are the happiest moments that people have when you’re alone and a fleeting something happens, and you feel a sense of joy. So, I’m looking for those.
EL: Eric Dolphy was a beautiful clarinetist, flutist and he once said something about, “Once you hear some music, it’s over and it can never be recovered. That moment. That moment of just intense beauty.” That’s really what you’re talking about, right?
MK: Yeah, it is.
EL: It is by definition fleeting.
MK: It is fleeting. And then you have to understand that all of that, all of it is fleeting and embrace that.
EL: Yeah. You’ve said that food is a subject that you’re crazy about.
MK: Room service breakfast in bed. Let’s start with the basics. Usually, I’ve spent time traveling a lot and I order breakfast in bed because I want to see how they serve it and what the dishes are and what’s the tray in, what’s the napkin and I photograph it and I do drawings and I’ve done pieces for magazines. So, it’s professional on my part. It’s professional research. But I adore all the trappings of table settings and what goes around it. I would like to work in a hotel. I worked as a maid in an Irish castle for a few weeks, and that was Heaven. I can see doing that. I’d like to get a job in hotel, serving somebody else breakfast.
EL: Serving somebody else breakfast. What is on your … If you were to construct your perfect room service breakfast, what would it be?
MK: Well, the linen would be fantastically well starched. It would be beautiful. It would be white. It would be impeccable. And then there would be a beautiful pot of coffee in some kind of silver pitcher that keeps it hot. And then the food would be what? Croissants, lemon pound cake, maybe a few poached eggs.
EL: Perfectly poached eggs. I like this. This is a very unusual but-
MK: That’s so far so good.
EL: That’s delicious.
EL: Fruit. All right.
MK: I’m having to bring a bigger platter to my bed. Now, they’re rolling a cart in and saying, “Where should we put this?”
EL: And how do you take your coffee?
MK: With a splash of half and half.
EL: A splash half and half, no sugar.
EL: I watched the short promotional film you did about collaborating with Michael Pollan, illustrating the hardcover edition of Food Rules. You said that you had to explain to Michael and maybe you had to rationalize this, that Cheez Doodles played an important part in your family history.
MK: I was very worried that if he found out that I ate Cheez Doodles, the deal is off. But it was interesting because I wasn’t kidding. I thought, “Oh-oh, I better really tell him this whole Cheez Doodle thing.”
EL: What happened, because I had a similar experience with him. Because yeah, you’re like, “Yeah, Michael Pollan. He’s like the Chief Justice of the food police.”
MK: Hide the Snickers. Hide the Snickers bars. He’s a very sweet man. He’s forgiving and understanding. No, it wasn’t a problem.
EL: It wasn’t a problem.
MK: And I got to do a painting of a Cheez Doodle, so hurrah for that.
EL: You’ve also described food as being a lot of things. Celebratory, ritual, families fighting, memories.
MK: I say, of course, what else is there? I don’t mean what else is there besides food, but I think people think about food a tremendous amount of the time. We’re always trying to figure out what’s the next meal going to be.
EL: It’s funny but I had a radio show on WNYC a long time ago, and it was Nora Ephron and Calvin Trillin and Ruth Reichl and I said to Nora Ephron, “So, like what is food mean to you?” And she said, “Besides love?”
MK: Right, exactly. Yeah.
EL: It was like, and she was just like that’s so obvious to her, and she loved food too, obviously.
MK: She did, right.
EL: I can imagine you two must have known each other at least a little and hang out.
MK: A little bit.
EL: There was just like, “oh, yeah, dodo head, besides love?” I was like, “Let’s start there.” You posed a question in another one of your books which was, do dogs eat when they’re depressed? It’s because you love dogs. You probably even remember all the stuff I’m-
MK: I’m just like a different person sitting here.
EL: Oh, wait. No, no, no, it was really you. Because you love dogs and you just posed this question, made me laugh. And then I started thinking about our beagle who passed away a few years ago. Actually, I don’t think he was ever depressed. Because he had no reason to be depressed.
MK: Right. Why would he be? He’s a beagle.
EL: He was a beagle. He ate everything, and he was a genius beagle so he could nudge the chair next to the counter, so he could get things on top of the fridge, because he had to get to the counter and then do his dolphin thing and go up and over and get it. And then, this is what he would do that would make him definitely the recipient of MacArthur genius award is that he’d take the bagel, and he would go to precisely the center underneath our bed, so we couldn’t get it.
MK: Oh, I thought you were going to say that he would take the bagel and cut it in half and put cream cheese on it perfectly.
EL: Now that would be awesome. But, no.
MK: Wouldn’t that be great to imagine? But no, yeah.
EL: But he went to our bed and then to a place we couldn’t get to before he can eat the bagel.
MK: Right. A little privacy, please.
EL: Exactly. It’s just like I’m on the modified American plan at your house. So, he was never depressed. It’s like I just don’t know. Sometimes dogs look sad, but I think it’s just because of their eyes and their faces rather than their real emotion. I mean, they’re sad when you leave, obviously.
MK: They say they are.
EL: Right. Thanks.
MK: Who knows what they really are?
EL: You’ve also said, I do have to bring up all these things, you’re like, “Why is he bringing all this stuff up?” But you said, “I’d like to own a food cart and sell donuts and rubber bands.” And I didn’t know what donuts had to do with rubber bands.
MK: Just different objects of affection. The sort of the basic elements of life that you need. I had a little cart. I had a little stand where I sold rubber bands in Chinatown and I have pop up shops where I do sell the things-
MK: Yeah. I have pop up shops at McNally Jackson for instance.
EL: Uh-huh. That was right near at our old office, our Serious Eats office on Grand Street.
MK: This is on Prince Street. So, I like the entrepreneurial moments of collecting the things that seem really small and unimportant. Again, it’s really the same thing as collecting emotional moments for observing emotional moments that they’re like, oh, this is really … You probably really need a rubber band and you probably really need a donut and I will sell it to you and I will have money. Obviously not much money, but some money.
EL: Right. Really, I don’t know what the margins would be on rubber bands and-
MK: I think they’re steep, but we’ll look into it.
EL: We’ll look into it.
EL: You also want said that you wanted to, you’ve had fantasies … That this makes sense that you’re telling me about pop-ups, that you want to have a food truck or a food cart.
MK: Some kind of cart, yeah. Some kind of traveling. When the bookstores on Fifth Avenue, we were working at Barnes and Noble at the time, my late husband and I. One of the things that I wanted to do was push a cart of books through Central Park and he said, “That’s a little bit laborious. Why don’t we come up with something better?” So, he got in touch with the Strand, and there’s the three bookstores on Fifth Avenue across from the Pierre.
MK: Yeah. 59th.
EL: Right. Oh, from the plaza.
MK: Yes. So, 59th and 5th.
MK: That sense of interacting in a very quick, these short-lived experiences interactions, conversations, I like them a lot.
EL: You’re a big fan of moments. Aren’t you?
MK: I like the moments.
EL: It’s an interesting concept, because in a way you’ve said, and I agree when I read what you wrote that that’s all we have. It’s like it’s a series of moments, and it’s only when we try to extend them unnaturally that we get into trouble.
MK: Right. Like a dinner party.
MK: Right? Who needs that?
EL: You mean because it should just be a moment of eating a cookie.
MK: It’s too long. How long can you sit and make conversation with people? How long? I think it’s torture.
EL: And it’s totally unnatural. This what I try to tell my wife because she loves to throw dinner parties. I never really put my finger on it before, but I think you’ve hit on it. It’s just like they seem to go on a long time.
MK: Interminable. I also like to be in bed by nine, so that makes my dinner party life really …. No, I like to be in bed by eight.
EL: By eight?
MK: I like to. I’m not sleeping today, but by eight I’m thinking what’s the point?
EL: Are you an early-morning creative person?
MK: Yes. I’m very early morning walker in Central Park and then getting to work. I’m willing to live the morning hours, but the night hours make me very unhappy.
EL: You have said, “If you want to take me on a fantastic date, take me to a supermarket on a Saturday night.”
MK: You said it, let’s do it. The supermarket is a place of such endless interest both in terms of product design, typography, language. It’s just endlessly fantastic and there are always new products there, people are always trying to figure out how to package the next, I don’t know what.
MK: Sardines. But something, anything, everything, and it just I really love the endeavor of people trying to figure out how to make these products, how to sell you these products and there’s, from a place that doesn’t have much choice to a place that has ridiculous choice.
EL: You really love packages.
MK: I do. I collect packages and boxes and things. I think that they are an opportunity for photography and illustration. Again, the most wonderful phrases and sentences, the most ridiculous meaningless things that people think will interest you in buying the product. So, we’re all trying to do that with whatever it is that we’re doing. We’re trying to figure out what’s the best way to present this thing so that you might want it. And also, I just, I don’t know, I like the lighting, I like the music, which is often terrible. Sometimes they sell bouncing … They have other things they sell you like bouncing balls, which I always buy, or shoes. Not only shoes, flip flops maybe.
EL: T-shirts, flip flops, they’re definitely flip flops.
MK: It’s your whole life in one shop.
EL: Has anyone ever taken you up on that?
MK: We do that all the time.
EL: You really just go, and you hang?
MK: Of course, yeah. We also go to the Met, and I’ll only hang out in supermarkets. But I said the Metropolitan Museum happens to be another kind of supermarket actually.
EL: You’re an artist with so many talents. You work in so many different media. What inspires you? How do you decide what project to work on? Is it whatever comes your way or is it things that you initiate?
MK: At this point, I’m initiating most of the projects. So, if somebody contacts me and I like it and it’s interesting, I’ll respond. It’s always been a mix of those things. In the beginning, I had to take on more work than I may have wanted to just because you need to in the beginning. The only real, real driver is instinct. What else do you have? What’s interesting, what you think you love. People, I don’t want to work with people I don’t like. I don’t want to work with people who have ethical feelings different than mine.
MK: Values. Thank you. Values, senses of humor, kind. So, it’s a big decision to embark on a project. But at this point, the editors I work with, my agent, Charlotte Sheedy, they’re all people who I respect tremendously, and I can talk about what is this thing that I’m thinking about? What’s this next project?
EL: Yeah. It’s a wonderful place to get to and a lot of people don’t ever get there.
MK: That’s a shame, because it’s a really incredible place to be.
EL: Were there moments where you’re like, “I’m not going to get there. I’m sick of doing this work with people that I don’t really want to be working with.” Everyone obviously goes through periods like that.
MK: Right. In a daily kind of, “Oh is this working out, am I really liking this?” But in the bigger picture I don’t. I’ve never thought, “Oh, I should have.” Well, there is … I was going to say I should have been a ballerina. But now I’m dancing in a ballet. So, what can I tell you?
EL: Yeah. I want to hear about this, you’re doing dance project. I don’t know what to call it, a performance.
MK: Performance piece.
EL: Tell us about that.
MK: I was the duck in Isaac Mizrahi’s production of Peter and the Wolf at the Guggenheim, and the choreographer was John Heginbotham, who used to be a dancer for Mark Morris. So, we had been friends for quite a while and he said we should work on something together. And so, we created a piece that’s very impressionistic of the principles of uncertainty, which performed it BAM last fall, Jacob’s Pillow, we just came back from Bulgaria the big time.
EL: Wow. Does it make you nervous getting on stage and dancing?
MK: Yeah, if you call it dancing, that would be probably a stretch. I’m moving some and I’m speaking some, and I’m a presence in on the stage. But now we’re working on a new piece, he’s actually requiring me to do actual extended-
MK: … movements. Thank you very much, movements. So, I have to gulp. But I think that I’m nervous, but once I’m on the stage and if I can pray that I remember my lines and for one section I embroidered my lines onto my tunic, so there wouldn’t be any issue. But it’s an extraordinary adventure.
EL: And then especially for you who you claim in your books and you’ve drawn so many dancers that obviously dancers have held a special fascination for you for a very long time.
MK: I think that movement, everybody moves, and the way that the dance of people walking down the street is extraordinary. Which is a heroic, how do we all manage to walk down the street.
EL: Another moment in a book of yours, where you talk about coming upon a chair that somebody has thrown out is a gift when you’re walking in the city.
MK: And there are a lot more chairs that people have thrown out and sofas that people are thrown out than you’d ever imagine. I love chairs, and I think they’re also an endless source of interest. The design of them is just … I have a lot of books about chairs, and I love the idea that there is this fantastic broken old chair that’s on the street, it just speaks to me.
EL: I love that. So, did you and your late husband ever work together?
MK: Oh, we worked together all the time.
EL: So M & Co. was bo-
MK: There were people there who were real designers and I was very much behind the scenes, but we met in summer flunk-out class at NYU when we were just 19. So, we were together for 30 years, and the conversation started That day we met and didn’t end till he died. Our collaboration was vital for both of us.
EL: Wow. That’s a lot of moments in 30 years.
MK: That was a lot of moments, and kids that we made.
EL: And kids. Yeah, which is fantastic. I worked for a company called Fred Allan, and I don’t know if you remember, but Fred Seibert hired you at M & Co. to do the MTV logo, right?
MK: Wow. Was it the logo?
EL: I can’t remember if it was a logo or it was something else.
MK: And did it work out?
EL: Yes. No, there’s nothing. There’s no dirty laundry to be aired here.
MK: There could have been. But at any rate, that’s good to hear. Right.
EL: I also have, I think through whatever work we did, I have one of the M & CO. watches.
MK: You do? Which one do have? Do you know?
EL: The one with the, what’s happening with the numbers?
MK: The numbers are all in different places?
MK: Yeah, the Askew.
EL: So, tell people-
MK: My kids learned how to tell time on that clock.
EL: Describe that watch for our listeners.
MK: It’s a classic. The designs from M & Co., one of the things that we wanted to do was to do whatever we wanted to do, because that’s how we felt about things. I studied literature and Tibor studied history. We both plunged into design an illustration in that world with the naïveté, with an optimistic naïveté, why can’t we do whatever we want? So, we decided to design watches and one of them … They were Swiss made. They were very pristine, very elegant, very minimal.
MK: But we played with them and the numbers on one particular watch were in different positions, so all the numbers were scrambled. They weren’t consecutive. And you really understand that you don’t need them to be the numbers. It’s really the position. The one that’s in the permanent collection at MoMA is the 10 1 4, we took away all the numbers except for the 10 and the one and the four, which are in their proper positions. So, it was a beautiful exercise because both of us came from other countries and we both learned English and we both fell madly in love with all of the vernacular of the American culture, it was easy for us to not take anything for granted.
EL: What’s amazing about your work is it’s so thoughtful, but there’s nothing condescending about it. There’s nothing snobbish.
MK: The approach was never to be cynical, never to approach it from a superior point of view or an arrogant point of view. That the whole endeavor is meant to communicate and not to isolate anybody. My desire is to communicate with everybody. Children, adults, dogs, cats not so much. But that sense of we’re all in this together. I have a sense of humor. I can use the absurd in a way that you might not, but it’s not going to be antagonistic. It’s going to be inclusive, it’s going to be humanistic towards you. That’s how I’ve always felt. Like an empathy for mankind. Humankind.
EL: Yeah. That’s really the other strand, is the sense of empathy. You really do put yourself in other people’s shoes.
MK: And I feel sorry for everybody, including myself. We know our phrase; our family phrase is poor. At the end of every day we just go, “Poor everybody. Good night.”
EL: I love that.
MK: It’s a nice way to end the day, isn’t it?
EL: Poor everybody. Good night. Okay.
EL: Now it’s time for the Special Sauce all you can answer buffet. You don’t have to worry. There’s no time and imagine we’re just to them M & Co. watch. So, it’s just a series of moments. It’s just a series of moments.
MK: I love this. Is this like a lightning round?
EL: Yeah, it’s a little bit like a lightning round.
MK: Which is exciting.
EL: Who’s at your last supper? No family allowed. Dead, living, doesn’t matter.
MK: Marcel Proust.
EL: Okay. Marcel Proust. And so, you’d obviously-
MK: Or more people?
EL: Yeah. Four people all together.
MK: Okay. Gertrude Stein, Marcel Proust, Kafka and am I the fourth? Enemy.
MK: And another person?
EL: Yeah, you get another person, but this is quite a table.
EL: It’s going to be intense.
MK: I know.
EL: It is not-
MK: I probably believe I will go into the kitchen and not talk to them for the rest of the evening. I’ll just serve them. Kafka wanted to be a waiter.
EL: All right. Good. You have one more person.
MK: You know why he wanted to be a waiter?
MK: Because he wanted to overhear the fleeting conversations of people but being visible. Which I think that’s genius.
EL: Yes, it gets back to moments.
MK: Yeah, that’s what I want to do.
EL: There’s one more person that can be at the table.
MK: One more person.
EL: Gertrude Stein, Kafka, I love this, Proust.
MK: Marcel Proust. My grandmother.
EL: No, no family allowed.
MK: Oh, no family allowed.
EL: Yeah. It could a musician.
MK: A musician. Okay Bach.
EL: Bach. Got it. All right. What are you eating?
MK: Oh, God, what are we eating. Pasta.
EL: Okay. I like that simple. Not too heavily sauced I presume?
MK: I don’t know. Now I’m worried about which kind of pasta to serve. What am I going to do?
EL: What would be for dessert?
MK: Pavlova with berries.
EL: Pavlova. Yes, I’ve seen you draw Pavlova. I like Pavlovas. We should explain, they’re meringues essentially, right? And people usually put fruit in them because they’re puff meringues.
MK: Yes. So, you put cream in it or lemon crème fraiche or some kind of wonderful cream thing, and then laden it as we like to say. Laden it with berries and some sauce.
EL: So, pasta and Pavlova.
MK: Does that sound like a good dinner? I don’t know.
EL: It might need one more thing.
MK: Okay, maybe forget the past and have a veal roast.
EL: I like that.
MK: Okay. Veal roast with potatoes and greens and then the Pavlova.
EL: Got it. I like that. Okay. What are you listening to?
MK: Well, I guess we’d listen to some of one of my guest’s music.
EL: But that’s too easy.
MK: We’re listening to Glenn Gould playing Bach.
EL: Okay. Do you have guilty pleasures when it comes to food? Well, obviously-
MK: Besides Snickers and Cheez Doodles?
EL: Yeah. Cheez Doodles is obviously one.
MK: It’s not I mean it’s not a guilty pleasure. It’s just like bring it on. Chocolate chip mint ice cream. I think I can live on that.
EL: Like just have a pint
MK: Are you talking-
EL: Yeah, that.
MK: Yeah. I wouldn’t sit down and have a pint, but I could maybe when I was pregnant, I did. Yes, I did.
EL: All right. I like this chocolate chip. Any others that immediately come to mind? I like Cheetos. You wouldn’t have them together.
MK: No, no, no, they’re separate pleasures. I do love Snickers.
EL: All right, that’s good. So, three books that have profoundly influenced your life and work.
MK: Speak Memory, by Vladimir Nabokov. Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time. Well, we’ll say Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking just to round it out and the first book that I read that I went, “I’m going to do this job.”
EL: It’s interesting about Proust and the Nabokov book, because they are about moments. You’re really drawn to artists and writers and musicians that sort of live in the moment.
MK: Well, what’s funny about Proust is, boy he doesn’t.
EL: Yeah, exactly. Right.
MK: But the looking back-
EL: It’s the extended moment.
MK: Right, exactly. The scrutiny of those for 20 pages of a moment is something extraordinary.
EL: Yeah, for sure. So, it’s just been declared Maira Kalman day all over the world. What’s happening on that day?
MK: A lot of naps are being taken. It’s a napping. It’s national napping day.
EL: That’s good.
MK: What’s happening?
EL: Yeah. Well, naps are-
MK: Everybody’s walking everywhere. Once you’re well rested and you know you’re going to have a nap later, everybody’s walking everywhere.
EL: Are they dancing?
MK: If they want to. They don’t have to be dancing.
EL: They don’t have to be dancing.
MK: No. Walking.
EL: Just walking.
MK: The whole everybody’s celebratorily walking.
EL: Well, Maira, thanks so much for allowing me to pepper you with questions. I am kind of a fanboy as I’ve told you, but I feel like we’re just getting started here. We haven’t even talked about your new book, Cake. So, you’re going to stick around to do that with your collaborator Barbara Scott-Goodman. But this is a wrap for this episode of Special Sauce. So long Serious Eaters and thank you Maira. We’ll see you next time.
MK: Thank you very much. That was fun.
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