I’m writing to you from one of what I now think of as the several thousand “office” locations for Penguin Random House—also known as, home. In just a short time, like so many companies, we have traveled the physical and mental distance from conducting the business of publishing in a few office buildings across the United States to instead doing so just a few feet from wherever we each also happen to live.
For those of us who spend most of our time on computers and in meetings, the translation of our work hasn’t been all that hard. For others, whose work usually involves higher-end specialized equipment and handling physical materials, the translation has been harder. Then there are the people we are the most reliant on right now to keep our business alive and thriving: the employees who work in our three distribution centers and who have, by redesigning their physical workflow to ensure individual health and safety, managed to keep shipping our books around the world. Knowing how many readers (particularly parents and kids) have found help and comfort from our authors’ work during this period, I am so grateful every day that we have been allowed to keep doing our work.
I am also keenly aware that, in so many ways, we are the lucky ones. As a New Yorker, I believe I’m not alone in sharing that March 15—the day restaurants were ordered to close—was the day it felt like our city was put on hold. Whether you live in a small town or in a densely packed city, everyone understands that the role of restaurants extends far beyond simply providing food. Plain or fancy, traditional or trendy, cheap or insanely expensive, our restaurants are the lifeblood of our communities. In the busy and stress-filled days and nights of modern life, these are the places we go to pause, to talk, to celebrate, to commiserate: to live.
Just as a publisher can’t exist without people making and shipping books (and readers reading them), a restaurant can’t exist without its employees—from those in the kitchen to those providing service—or its customers. As soon as it’s safe and allowed, we customers will be back (delighted to set aside all our newly honed home-cooking skills). Until then, we will hold in our hearts and prayers everyone whose livelihood is dependent on the restaurant world.
This book is one humble attempt to do our part to support the restaurant industry. As chefs and publishers, but above all as enthusiastic eaters and customers, we hope this contribution makes a difference.
Until the day when we can be there in person, we’re wishing you all the best.
From our house to yours,
CEO, Penguin Random House US
P.S. Deprived of restaurants, and confined at home, many of us have found that we now obsess about food more than ever. In my family, I’m lucky that my husband is a great home cook and takes care of most meals. I supplement his wholesome, tasty meals with the fun that only baking can provide. In that spirit, I recently shared with colleagues the recipe for what I now call “Conference Call Cake.” It’s an adaptation of a Sephardic orange cake with a long culinary history but which I found written up in the New York Times by John Willoughby. Its qualification as a good dessert for this dark period is that it has few ingredients, involves more time than skill, is bright and cheerful-looking, and is, most important, delicious. From my quarantine to yours:
Take the clementines you haven’t yet eaten from when you bought that large bag on your last shopping trip. Ideally, 4 to 6 of them.
When you’re getting ready for your first Zoom meeting of the day, plop the clementines, peels and all, in a pot with enough water to give them plenty of room. Bring it to a boil. Reduce it to a simmer.
When it’s time for your midmorning break (about two hours later), fish them out of the pot and let them cool. Then puree them, ideally in a food processor but if you don’t have one you could probably figure out how to mash them using whatever you have. You want to end up with a consistent, pulpy mash. You can now wait any amount of time to finish the recipe. Take a call. Have a meeting. Do some disinfecting. Supervise home schooling. Walk the dog (whether the dog wants to or not).
Ready to start again? Heat the oven to 350°F. Hope you have a 9-inch springform pan, but if not, use any kind of baking pan. Coat with cooking spray if you have it. Or butter and flour it if you don’t. If you have parchment paper, line the bottom of the pan to make your life easier.
In a big bowl, whisk 6 eggs, the clementine pulp, 1 cup of sugar, 2 cups of almond flour, and 2 teaspoons baking powder. Pour it all into the baking dish.
Bake for about an hour, during which time you can have another meeting, or supervise another home-schooling session, or disinfect again. You’ll know the cake is ready when the edges are golden brown. Take it out of the oven and let it cool for about 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge, then remove the springform collar or flip the cake out and set it on a rack to cool completely.
Vacuum. Make everyone wash their hands. Walk the dog again. Wash your hands. Have another Zoom.
You could now eat the cake. Or you could do what any sensible person would do, which is to make a chocolate glaze: melt 8 ounces of bittersweet chocolate with 1½ sticks of unsalted butter and 1 tablespoon of corn syrup. Let it cool for a while. If you have a thermometer, “a while” means when it’s about 89°F. If you don’t, “a while” means when you’ve run out of patience. Pour it on top of the cake.
Do some more work. Make dinner. Then serve the cake. Clean up.
Pass out, and dream of the day when restaurants will be open again.