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A Toast to a Diplomat With a Cook's Heart
Once, she decided to smoke a turkey in the smoker she had given Kirk as a birthday present. Bundled up in her fur coat, in sub-zero weather, she took turns with her husband, going outside all night to feed the smoker and baste the turkey with the Vermont maple syrup that then-Secretary of State George Shultz (with whom she had clashed politically) had given her as a Christmas present. Although she got little sleep that night, the turkey was delicious.
My memory of Jeane is of someone bounding into her kitchen with videotapes, books, files and groceries in her arms. Short on time, she didn't bother to change clothes even if she was still in the silk blouse and skirt she had worn for a meeting with Shultz or a foreign dignitary. Assisting her in her small but well-equipped kitchen was Margarita, a Salvadoran housekeeper who did the prep work, taking directions from Jeane's fluent Spanish to dice the scallions, chop the garlic, snip the beans.
Jeane cooked with the characteristic gusto that she threw into her writing on neoconservative causes or the latest speech defending U.S. foreign policy before the United Nations. As she sauteed the ham, beat her natilla, a Spanish custard pudding she loved, or made paella, a regular party dish, she told me about her techniques.
"There are two essential things about rice cookery," she told me once. "First, you have to coat the rice with oil or butter, and you should never use too much water. Two cups rice, three cups water is about right. Paella is like a fruitcake. You do everything in the paella pan."
Wherever Jeane was became the center of her house. As she cooked, Kirk sat nearby with a champagne kir in hand, offering drinks to guests as they entered. Kirk and their three sons were all nibblers, giving her hugs and snitching cashew nuts or string beans that she would have preferred to save for the meal.
So it was fitting that for her 80th birthday, shortly before her death, her son John threw a small party at her home. Even though his mother was frail, John asked Francis Layrle, the marvelous former chef for the French ambassador in Washington, to cook the French foods she loved: Jean-Louis Palladin's chestnut soup with foie gras, with a Provencale main course of roast lamb, ratatouille and roasted vegetables, and for dessert lemon cake with raspberry jam from her longtime favorite pastry chef, Ann Amernick (now co-owner of Palena) and Jeane's mother's champion chocolate cake.
Before each dish, Francis talked to Jeane about the ingredients, showing her the beautiful lamb from Jamison Farm in Pennsylvania. She touched the perfect lamb and truly savored the meal. Three weeks later, she died.
"There was so much tenderness and attention showed her from her family and friends," Layrle said when he learned of her death. "It felt like the Last Supper."
Joan Nathan is the author of "Jewish Cooking in America," "The New American Cooking" and many other books. She lives in Washington.