BACK IN THE PLEISTOCENE—meaning before the Internet, even before cell phones—Corky Pollan and I walked the streets of Manhattan for New York Magazine trolling for the next shiny object, whether clothing or a gadget or a cache of Edwardian berry spoons, that might appeal to our readers. Our column was called “Best Bets” and, while we didn’t invent the column, we took great care of it.
Corky always found the best stuff. After a number of years she went on to become style director for the late, lamented Gourmet magazine. But while she was doing all that, she and her husband, Stephen, were creating something—a family that has become a dynasty of talent.
When the kids were little, they were out on Long Island. But then the whole family came roaring into Manhattan, all six Pollans. The oldest of the kids, Michael, grew up to be a journalist, writing about the plant world (Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education), about food (In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, The Omnivore’s Dilemma) and most recently about psychedelics (How to Change Your Mind). Dana and Lori co-founded the successful Pollan-Austen exercise studio. Tracy became an actor in movies and TV, most famously on the series Family Ties, where she met her husband of 30 years, Michael J. Fox (guess what? they have four children too; it seems to be a winning formula).
And while they were doing all that writing and creating and styling, they were also eating. Maybe it was Corky’s early exposure to food through her dad’s Long Island produce business, but she set an inventive and healthful table for her family. They noticed.
All of the Pollans cook inventively. And they were always swapping recipes. The realization that they had so much material gave rise in 2014 to their first cookbook, The Pollan Family Table: The Best Recipes and Kitchen Wisdom for Delicious, Healthy Family Meals. But wait! There’s more! The clan have now come out with Mostly Plants: 101 Delicious Flexitarian Recipes From the Pollan Family.
The title comes from brother Michael’s mantra: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” And family being family, Michael wrote the foreword to the book.
Some of the Pollans are vegetarians, some, like Corky, are carnivores. But even Corky says she has given up on beef and lamb in favor of pork, which just isn’t as strongly “meaty” flavored. (I know what she means: After half a dozen years of making turkey burgers, I find it jarring to confront the real thing—though I still find the real thing delicious.)
For the Fourth of July I made the Watermelon, Feta and Arugula Salad With Balsamic Glaze for a family porch party. There are lots of versions of this summer go-to, but I like theirs best. What I like even more than the recipes are the helpful asides and tips. For instance, “Tips to Make Any Dish Taste Better” (too sweet? try adding citrus, white wine or vinegar; or red pepper flakes; or soy sauce. too spicy? try a dollop of yogurt, lime juice, brown sugar). Each addition shifts the flavor profile a bit, toward Asian or Latin or just plain delicious. But the tips are things I wouldn’t immediately hit on in the face of kitchen disaster, or even just meh.
There are three whole pages of shortcuts (if you need to add more oil while cooking, drizzle it around the edges so it’s heated by the time it reaches the food; coat your cheese grater with nonstick cooking spray before grating—you already know why, but would you have thought of it? not I).
I’ve been living far away from the Pollan clan for a number of years, missed the sad fact that, Steve, one of my all-time favorite people, had passed away. His legacy, created with Corky, is as vibrant as ever. And my selfish thought is, If I can’t be at the Pollan family table, with these two cookbooks I can at least approximate the family table in my own kitchen.
LittleBird Nancy is managing editor of MyLittleBird.