If you haven’t already deduced this fact, I am fanatically attached to Gilmore girls. Attempting to appear a bit more diversified, only a portion of the blog is devoted to this obsession. If you aren’t a Gilmore girls fan, you need to reconsider your values. J/K! But, you may not find the Friday Night Dinner category particularly enlightening. Or maybe you’ll join the cult. At any rate, I am thrilled that this writing and cooking exercise is “forcing” me to re-watch the series yet again. What can I say? I’m willing to sacrifice for my craft.
TV has rarely been privileged enough to host a show as fresh and witty as Gilmore girls (2000-2007). The creator, Amy Sherman-Palladino, pitched it to the network with the words (paraphrasing), “It’s about a mom and a daughter, and they’re more like friends…” And they bought it. That was all she had. A vacation to a rural town in CT later, some of the pieces began to come together. Introducing Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, a mother/daughter duo like never before. Only 16 years apart, they blur the boundaries of the parent-child relationship. Lorelai is charismatic and witty, somewhat immature, but determined to forge her own path in life. Rory is bookish, introverted and awkward, and often seems the parent in the equation. She is angelically naive, and relies on Lorelai to be her social contact.
A pilot episode is a tricky thing. It has to sell the show, both to the network and to the viewers. Like Elizabeth and Rob say in their Gilmore girls podcast Under the Floorboards, this can make for a very stilted viewing experience. Not so here. It manages to introduce all of the main characters, sketch the personalities of each, and paint a picture of the backstory that so greatly influences the family dynamics. A lot to ask of one episode.
Enter Richard and Emily Gilmore, the somewhat estranged parents of Lorelai and my favorite characters of the series by far. Both “old school” theater trained actors, Kelly Bishop and Edward Herrmann (b. 1943, d. 2014) bring complexity, humor, and class to the table, due both to their performances and to the parts written for them. Both actors have been vocal in their admiration of the show, stating that they had never read a script so sharp, hip, and funny. They felt privileged to be cast in the show– a feeling that was mutual. In fact, every episode (all seven seasons) states in the opening credits, “special appearance by Edward Herrmann,” a nod of appreciation to his impressive resume. They own their roles: rich, privileged, members of all the right circles… perfect on the outside, yet hurting and broken inwardly from their only child’s rejection of their lifestyle and the resulting estrangement from her and their only grandchild. The friction that results from this history is an overarching theme of the show, and one that most people can relate to on some level.
Emily Gilmore, in particular, responds to this painful history with an ice-cold shell and a sharp, snarky tongue. She could easily have come across merely as a witch, but Kelly Bishop is far too accomplished an actor for that misconception. Her vulnerabilities come to light and bits of redemption and reconciliation are apparent throughout the series. At this point in Rory’s life– the same age her mother was when she got pregnant and left home– the interactions with her grandparents are mostly relegated to the token holiday dinner. Lorelai’s hand is forced when Rory is accepted into a prestigious high school and she has to come up with a large sum of money at once. Swallowing her pride, she visits her parents and asks for a loan. Emily, in her warped way of needing connection with the girls and not knowing how to ask for it, attaches a whole ball of string to the check by demanding that they join her weekly for dinner– a Friday night dinner, to be specific.
(To those of you fortunate enough to be intimately familiar with the show, I apologize for the lengthy exposition. Future posts will assume that readers now have been brought up to speed, if needed.) 🙂
I”ll be perfectly honest with you– I’ve been a bit nervous about recreating these dinners. Sookie St. James I am not, and I remember some fairly exotic dishes. I hope that Central Market and Whole Foods can keep up with Emily Gilmore’s grocery lists. For this pilot dinner, however, she is being nice to me. Surprising, actually, as I look back on it. For such a rare occasion– her daughter and granddaughter coming over “on a day when the banks are open,” Emily’s menu is rather simple: lamb, potatoes, some type of green vegetable, and apparently a chocolate cake with red berries on top (seen in the kitchen). This is a dinner that is nothing out of the ordinary for the Gilmore household. Perhaps it is Emily’s way of trying to portray a nonchalance about this tension-fraught arrangement.
I love lamb, but it has always intimidated me. Not sure why. Usually I stick to ground lamb and lamb stews. Both delicious, but not on the menu here. Lamb chops it is: marinated with rosemary, thyme, and olive oil, pan-seared and roasted. I got really fancy and peeled the potatoes before mashing them. (Who really does that on a regular basis? Unpeeled potatoes equal more nutrition and less work. Everybody wins.) I couldn’t determine which vegetable they were served with, so I went with a medley of greens. All of this was paired with a Pinot Noir. Please don’t ask me wine questions. Here is the extent of my wine knowledge: drink reds with red meat; drink whites with fish; don’t drink pink Zinfandel outside of a trailer park.
As a child, I loved to bake. I grew really good at it, too. My first manager even sent me to a course on cake decorating so I could utilize those skills at work (good ‘ol Dairy Queen). My cakes were pretty amazing– works of creativity that you rarely see now on ice cream cakes. Disappointing. I guess the airbrushed look has won out. As an adult with a slowing metabolism and more health awareness, I rarely bake. We’d just eat it, you know! And I’m not really into the gluten-free, natural sweetener, “healthy” method of baking, yada, yada. If I want chocolate cake, by god, it had better be the real deal. So, I don’t bake. Now, on one hand, baking is pretty straightforward. Follow the recipe. On the other hand, like any other skill, it can accumulate some rust. Add to the mix the fact that I don’t even have flour and sugar in my pantry at the moment… I opted for the box mix. Copout? Maybe. Baby steps here. You can’t mess up a box mix, right? Weeelllll… wrong sized pan and insufficient greasing of such led to an overdone cake that came out of the pan in three pieces. Some yummy frosting covers a multitude of sins, and with the addition of some dark red cherries, it was salvaged for the photo op. Not completely inedible, either, but loads of room for improvement. If we’re going to have a cheat meal, it had better be worth the calories!
For being more of the “throw a quinoa salad together for dinner” type of gal, this multi-dish meal wasn’t too stressful. Cake done and frosted by the end of baby boy’s nap. The lamb was the quickest and easiest part. How did everything turn out? Was the “lamb too dry?” No. Almost well-done because I don’t own a meat thermometer and misjudged the cooking time, but still juicy and full of flavor. Could the potatoes have “used a little more salt?” No. 🙂 Those were perfect. I’ll post the recipes I utilize for Friday night dinner on Pinterest, if curious.
Chompers seemed unimpressed by the lavish spread. Toddlers are so entitled, aren’t they? He was very interested in the mashed potatoes (we don’t do many potatoes here– all that starch, ya know). The lamb was tolerated, especially if dipped in the potatoes. The Toddler Cam clip shows his bafflement with the greens. Did you cook grass, mama? Not cool to eat it outside, but okay in my high chair? I know– adults are weirdly inconsistent. I’ll have him rate it a solid 7/10. The potatoes raise the average.
Our little family dinner was delightful and calm– none of the fireworks of the Gilmore household, yet not dull enough to bring out the Bop-It (whoops, wrong home). But, alas– there was no angry Lorelai to scrub the multitude of pans in my sink. I have something in common with Emily, for I can never remember the name of my maid, either. Hmmm.
Now I want to hear from you! Comment below on your favorite scenes from this episode, or share your cooking mishaps. The floor is yours. Cheers!