An Upper East Side town house's Thanksgiving decor. Photo: JH.
This is woman is one of the great ones. This woman and a friend, one James Beard, on a Thanksgiving some twenty-odd years ago, got into thinking about those of us out here who might be spending Thanksgiving alone and without a nice hot meal to warm our hearts.
I’d have loved to have been a fly on the wall listening to them “cook” up this idea. I can’t help thinking that this most serious enterprise was borne of some sort of mirth and wit, since that factor is often present when you’re around Gael Greene. Probably Beard too, although I never met the man. At that time both were already very well known in New York because of food luxury – divine dining at any price. They made their livings from food; and damn good livings too. Plus they got to do what they love, namely to eat, to savor, to sate.
So it is interesting that about that time in their lives, they were thinking of somebody else. That may sound cynical but it tends not to be true of many of us at certain stages of our prosperous lives.
Whatever it was that they discussed (I’m imagining they were doing it while doing their “chopping” for the grand banquet they’d be partaking of), an institution was born. An Honest-to-God New York institution called Citymeals-on-Wheels.
They started with friends volunteering, serving seventeen meals their first holiday. Today Citymeals-on-Wheels is a not-for-profit organization and public-private partnership with the New York City Department for the Aging that raises private funds to prepare and deliver weekend, holiday and emergency meals to the homebound elderly throughout the boroughs of New York City. Last year, they underwrote 3 million meals to nearly 18,000 seniors in New York City.
Last Friday at the Rainbow Room, they held their annual Women’s Power Lunch which brings out hundreds of New York’s most prominent women. I’m talking about women of influence and often business and philanthropy. The press often includes the word “powerful” to describe these women. The main source of that power is imagination and energy. The luncheon was emceed by Deborah Roberts of ABC’s “20/20.”
Mary Meeker, Emily Sussman, Carolyn Sussman, Laurie Tisch, and Tovah Feldshuh
Honored for their long-standing commitment to Citymeals were Christina Gold, President and CEO, Western Union; Mary Meeker, Managing Director, Morgan Stanley; and Lillian Vernon, Citymeals board member and Founder of the Lillian Vernon Corporation.
In the Citymeals luncheon goody-bag was this recipe of Gael Greene’s which you can enjoy almost as much as if you were eating it by reading:
This meatloaf started life as a meatball recipe in the Times. From Insatiable: Tales from a Life of Delicious Excess. Copyright 2006 Gael Greene.
Danish Meat Loaf (serves 6 to 8)
• 6 slices of dense square packaged pumpernickel (Wild’s Westphalian is perfect or any pumpernickel bread) or 3 1/2 –inch slices of bakery pumpernickel
• 2 large eggs
• 2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
• 2 tsp. coarse salt
• 1 tsp. Freshly ground black pepper
• 3 medium yellow onions (1cup) fine chopped (not minced)
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 3/4 lb. ground beef
• 1/2 lb. ground veal
• 3/4 lb. Italian sausage, squeezed from casing (Sausage can be sweet or hot. Guess what? I prefer hot.)
• Plain store-bought or fine homemade bread crumbs to sprinkle on top
Pre-heat over to 350 degrees.
Soak bread in warm water for 3 or4minutes. Squeeze out water and tear into pieces. Combine lightly beaten eggs, Worcestershire, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Using a big mixing bowl, mix bread and egg mixture together, then add onions, garlic, and the meats, and blend together with a wooden spoon or your hands.
Pat into an oval or square baking dish or a loaf pan, then sprinkle with bread crumbs. Bake 1 to 1 1/4 hours or until instant-read thermometer registers 155 degrees Fahrenheit.
Remove from oven, pour off excess fat, and let it rest for 10 minutes.
During the luncheon there was a slideshow of different women visiting much older single women in their homes as part of the Citymeals program. These lovely and poignant moments were accompanied by a special performance by cellist Alisa Weilerstein. Ms. Weilerstein is a graduate of the Young Artist Program at the Cleveland Institute of Music and of Columbia. She was accompanied by her mother, pianist Vivian Hornik Weilerstein. It was powerful, and rewarding.
There was also a special presentation by actress Kathleen Turner and Muriel Fleit, a senior with whom the actress has developed a special bond through the Citymeals-on-Wheels Friendly Visiting Program.
Among this year’s lunching ladies were Christine Baranski; Polly Bergen; Samantha Boardman; Mary Higgins Clark; Carmen Dell’Orefice; Michele Oka Doner; Edie Falco; Geraldine Ferraro; Linda Fiorentino; Nina Garcia; Betsy Gotbaum; Gael Greene; Donna Hanover; Caroline Hirsch; Liz Lange; Stephanie March; Liz Smith; Elaine Stritch, Diana Taylor; Kathleen Turner; Diane von Furstenberg; Silda Wall Spitzer; and others.
Men were not completely excluded from the Power Lunch for Women. For the sum of 10.000 bucks, an invited man had the privilege of choosing which powerful and famous woman would be their lunch partner. Among this year’s “10K Men” were Albert P. Behler of Paramount Group, Inc.; Joseph M. Cohen of JM Cohen & Co.; Shelly Fireman of Fireman Hospitality Group; Bill Fischer of Fischer Travel Enterprises; Ed Lewis of Essence Magazine; Michael Lynne of New Line Cinema; Jimmy Nicholas of TanaSeybert; Craig Pfeiffer of CITI Smith Barney; John Pomerantz of JJP Advisory LLC; John Shapiro of Morgan Stanley; Daniel J. Rusty Staub of The Rusty Staub Foundation; Donald G. Tober of Sugar Foods Corporation; and Steven B. Zavagli of Wynn Starr Flavors, Inc.
One hundred percent of the money raised from ticket sales at Power Lunch, and all Citymeals’ events, goes to the preparation and delivery of nutritious meals to homebound elderly in the five boroughs of New York City.
As I was watching Gael Greene at the podium, I was noticing her beautiful embroidered velvet coat. I took a picture of her afterwards so you can see it for yourself. It was a work of art. I mentioned my admiration to a friend of mine who’s known Gael for a long time, and she replied,”Yes, and I knew her when she wore a much larger version of that same coat.” I liked that, for all the irony implied. If you met the woman, as I have, you’d get the real person, all the time. It must have been that part of her and of James Beard that started all this. Although I don’t think his aprons ever got smaller.
Founded in 1981, One hundred percent of donations from the public to Citymeals goes toward hand-delivered meals for homebound seniors. For more information, visit www.citymeals.org.
John Shapiro, Andrea Marcovicci, and Cindy Adams
Karen Page, Jill Eikenberry, and Adrienne Landau
Baroness Mariuccia Zerilli Marimo, Thelma Golden, and Stephanie French
Cynthia Fuchs Epstein and Susan Wood Richardson
Cindy Adams and Fran Weissler
Diana Taylor, Deborah Roberts, and Barbara Alden Taylor
Michael Lynne and Betsy Bernaudaud
Shari Scharfer Rollins and Jill Lohrfink
Alisa Weilerstein and Vivian Hornik Weilerstein
Geraldine Ferraro and Donna Zaccaro
Joe Cohen, Ed Lewis, Michael Lynne, and John Pomerantz
Rikki Klieman, Linda Fiorentino, Zarela Martinez, and Candida Royalle
Lynn Sherr, Edie Falco, and Gael Greene
Samantha Boardman Rosen, Marcia Stein, and Kimberly Kravis Schulhof
Judith Regan, Marcia Stein, Michele Oka Doner, and April Gornick
Samantha Shanken, Andrew Silverman, Donatella Arpaia, and Shelley Fireman
Kathryn Steinberg, Liz Lange, and Marcia Stein
Marcia Stein and Donna Hanover
Kathleen Turner and Muriel Fleit
Lillian Vernon and Carmen Dell'Orefice
When you visit the Rainbow Room at Rockefeller Center you can't avoid the views of the metropolis and you can't resist staring or, if you have a camera handy, taking a picture. On Friday, about two in the afternoon, as I was leaving the luncheon, I spent a couple of minutes as Mother Nature kept changing the lighting over the Park in all its glorious foliage.
From the Rainbow Room looking down to the immediate East, the spires of St. Patricks Cathedral and the old Villard Mansion in front of the Palace Hotel tower.
Yesterday’s Page Six carried a lead story about the daughters of the late Lady Jeanne Campbell suing the London Telegraph over its obituary about their mother’s sex life. Lady Jeanne had a reputation for being a woman who did what she wanted when she could or felt like it. That is in no way casting aspersions on her character; she was an intelligent woman who lived her life in a very independent way, not confined by society’s folkways and mores.
I wrote about her passing, carrying the only notice in the U.S. at the time, and took some of my information about Lady Jeanne from the Telegraph piece now under contention (See NYSD 9.24.07). I took other information from contemporaries of Lady Jeanne who knew her well, as well as stories long in print.
The facade of 244 West 11th Street, Lady Jeanne Campbell's last address.
Private Lives. A few years ago my sisters accidentally let slip a family secret about our mother. It seems that during the years she lived (mainly in misery) with my father, she occasionally had a “visit” as they put it, with an old beau from before the days of our father.
My sisters were surprised I never knew about it and made note that she had concealed this matter from “the boy” but not her girls. She used to take them with her when she went to visit the man (who never married after she turned him down in favor of my father), and were told to stay outside and play. For the duration. I was never taken on these very occasional afternoons, nor did I ever meet the man. If I had been taken I’m sure I wouldn’t have suspected anything since children know nothing about such things.
My sisters also seemed to think that Mother should have thought better of the whole matter (the affair). I was surprised to hear about this since my mother was one of those women who basically toiled throughout her young adult life feeding, sheltering, clothing and educating her brood without very much help from my father. How she had time for a moment’s relief or pleasure amazed me in retrospect. I was still thinking of her with the child’s point of view. On the other hand, as a grown man, I felt admiration for her finding a moment’s pleasure or distraction for herself. I never understood, as child, why she didn’t just leave or kick my father out and assumed that she, like the rest of us, was afraid of him. However, she didn’t. When I was much older, I saw that she had her inexplicable dependencies also, as did he, just like many if not most of us; and she stayed with hers to the end. Probably just like (most of) the rest of us.
That revelation about my mother came about fifften years after her passing (at 82). I thought it was funny that my sisters still did not have a very high opinion of their mother’s very personal choices. I’m not sure what I’d have thought if I had learned about it during her lifetime or shortly thereafter. We all have the Mother we possess, who belongs to nobody else (even if she doesn’t belong to us), the Mother subject to judgment as rigorous as our tenderest feelings. Then there is the Mother who is a woman, living her life; someone beyond our ken. This is a much more difficult concept to grasp for almost all of us.
I have no doubt that my mother would have been very upset if she thought I knew about her private moments. For she too spoke the all-family line, and guilt always played a big part, well stoked as it was by religious dogma in childhood, passed on down by generation. She later did her share of passing down also, when it came to her own children. However, the facts remain and redeem. To me, the fact that she got beyond it, even if only briefly, is a sign of pluck and courage.
In the case of Lady Jeanne Campbell, she was one of those world-remarkable women, sometimes found among the European and perhaps especially the British aristocrats. Their lives are rich in ways other than material. Controversy often trails behind and garnishes the truth, which comes with living life to the fullest. These girls knew/know how to make the banquet part lively and fascinating, at least in the re-telling. These women, while not always like minded, are always dynamically self-reliant, clever and smart. If they were men they would be explorers or adventurers or political leaders.
In Lady Jeanne’s case, she was a journalist – a position that she came to earn but which was given to her by her grandfather Lord Beaverbrook, the most powerful British press lord of his day. She gained a reputation for “telling it like it is,” calling it as she saw it. She made a judgment about Ted Kennedy’s guilt after visiting the fatal scene at Chappaquiddick and told the world as much. She also enjoyed her relationships with the men in her life and was unself-conscious about discussing them with her friends. Although perhaps not with her children.
She was a woman who lived a big life. This is not unusual, but neither is it common for a woman of her background which was by turn Victorian and Edwardian in origins. That world tended to stifle education and independence for girls, in favor instead, of the “grand prize” of “marrying a title and being left in a big, draughty pile in the country all week while he’s down in London having all the fun”.
None of that for Lady Jeanne Campbell who also had an active career with access to the upper echelons of power, as good as any man, along with a taste for it. When she wanted to, she also had that aristocratic hauteur which rarely exists in Americans, and can easily pass for self-confidence. And is shrewdly used as such by the cleverer ones. She also had a lot of friends. She was a mother, and one who left a strong and favorable impression. She was arguably the most remarkable member of her family -- the dukes of Argyll -- in many generations. As a woman, however, she was denied the possibility of that recognition. If she were a man, such revelations would be taken for what they were: a life lived to the fullest or as much as possible, a life that would naturally invite hyperbole, to the delight of her admirers.