Friends of the Port Washington Public Library held their first luncheon in three years
Friends of The Port Washington Public Library (FOL) was able to host the annual Richard D. Whittemore Book and Author Luncheon for the first time in three years. The Book and Author Luncheon featured authors Lidia Bastianich and Susan Isaacs.
Founded in 1966, the FOL is the library’s longest-serving volunteer organization. In addition to hosting the luncheon, the FOL assists with library programs, supports the library staff, advocates for the library budget, fundraises for all library departments and much more.
Amy Bass, President of the FOL, welcomed guests to the luncheon at the Clubhouse at Harbor Links and introduced the new format of the author and book luncheon. Instead of presenting an author lecture, the FOL decided to present an author’s conversation where attendees were able to listen in and enjoy the flowing, lively and informational discussion.
Best-selling novelist Issacs acted as the program moderator. Issacs asked Bastianich questions about her career and memoir, titled My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family, and Food.
Issacs has lived in Port Washington for half a century now and has published 14 novels. In addition to novels, Issacs has written two screenplays and worked as a magazine editor and freelance political speechwriter.
As a chef, Emmy-award-winning TV host, best-selling cookbook author, and memoirist, Bastianich is known for many things. Alongside her husband, Bastianich has become a successful restaurateur, and now her two children also partake in the family business. Bastianich has released numerous cookbooks, the most recent being Lidia’s a Pot, a Pan, and a Bowl, a companion book to her new 26-part public television series, Lidia’s Kitchen: Home Cooking.
During dessert at the FOL luncheon, Issacs and Bastianich took the stage to converse about Bastianich’s moving memoir released in 2018. My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family, and Food details Bastianich’s early life growing up in Pula, on the Istrian Peninsula, and what led to her moving to America and becoming a self-made success story.
The luncheon attendees were able to ‘eavesdrop’ on the conversation between Issacs and Bastianich. Living in Pula, Bastianich learned about growing foods and cooking Italian meals from her grandmother, Nonna Rosa.
“History propelled my whole life,” said Bastianich when discussing her time living with her Nonna Rosa. Bastianich grew up during the birth of communism in Europe, causing political turmoil throughout the region, leading to her and her brother being sent to live with Nonna Rosa.
Nonna Rosa had chickens, ducks, rabbits and many animals that Bastianich helped tend to. As a child, she was often sent to her garden to acquire ingredients for her Nonna, which taught her a lot about the different smells, textures and tastes of these native ingredients.
“When you live with nature, you can anticipate it with your senses,” said Bastianich. Growing up around the garden and farm fostered a deep connection to the source of food and helped flourish the love for cooking that Bastianich fell into in New York.
When a communist regime annexed Istria, Bastianich’s immediate family fled to Trieste, where they spent two years in a refugee camp waiting for visas to enter the United States. In 1958, her family was brought to New York with the help of Catholic charities and the church.
Bastianich’s family was able to settle down in America and were incredibly grateful to the various charities that assisted them along the way. She shared that her mother even tried to pay back the charities when they had the money, but they didn’t accept the money.
Bastianich began working in restaurants as a waitress at the young age of 14, but somehow she always ended up back in the kitchen. After attending Hunter College, she met her husband, and they teamed up to create their restaurants.
Famous chef Julia Child visited Bastianich’s restaurant in Manhattan, Felidia, only a few months after it opened in 1981. Child sampled many dishes that night, but Bastianich’s wild mushroom risotto stood out to her. Some time later, Child visited Bastianich’s home and learned to make the risotto. Child asked Bastianich to appear as a guest chef on her PBS series, Master Chefs, to make the mushroom risotto. The episode helped Bastianich get into the media world and lead her to launch her own television series.
“There is no other place in the world where I could’ve done what I did with the opportunities I was given besides America,” said Bastianich.
Although Bastianich was never able to say goodbye to her grandmother before she left Istria, the smell and tastes of the food she made connected her to her grandmother and allowed her memory to live on.
“Family was our strength and roots since the beginning,” said Bastianich. “The strength from family transported.”
To learn more about Lidia Bastianich, check out her memoir My American Dream: A Life of Love, Family, and Food.
After discussing the memoir, Issacs and Bastianich dove into her new cook book, Lidia’s a Pot, a Pan, and a Bowl. The cookbook recipes are simple, straightforward one pot or one pan type of recipes. It took two years to research and compile for the cookbook which coincides with two seasons of Bastianich’s show.
“I am a conduit of my native culture, Italian,” said Bastianich. “And I bring it to my adoptive culture.”
After the intriguing conversation that had attendees entranced, the FOL held a question and answer segment with Bastianich where she further explored details of her career. Bastianich signed copies of her books for attendees at the luncheon, which was unplanned but turned out to be a wonderful surprise.
“We did not expect Lidia to sign books,” said Bass. “We had book plates that she had signed in advance, but she was so gracious and obviously enjoying herself that she kept signing and signing.”
Bass concluded the luncheon by thanking all the members and volunteers of the FOL, the PWPL staff, donors and supporters, including all the luncheon attendees. Although this was the first luncheon event in thre years, the FOL ran the entire program smoothly and are looking forward to next year’s event.
Learn more about the Port Washington Public Library and the Friends of the Library organization at pwpl.org