In the summer of 1996, I was walking west on East 86th Street holding a baguette that I would eat with dinner that night in my studio apartment one block north. I was wearing a black waffle fitted polo with a khaki wraparound skirt and a pair of black pointy-toed Nine West mules, which may have been the most unattractive pair of shoes any female has ever worn in history. Why do I remember this? Because don’t you always remember every detail about what you’re wearing the first time you meet your crush? In this case it was Derek Jeter. I recognized him because he was the Yankee’s latest wunderkind — that day, in fact, he was named Rookie of the Year. He was walking east with Gerald Williams, who I immediately recognized…because the kid walking with his dad in front of me shouted “Dad! It’s Derek Jeter and Gerald Williams!”
I had a crush on Derek Jeter ever since I read an interview with him in the New York Post where he said his sister was a better athlete than he was. And the crush only grew stronger after meeting him because…I am a girl and because athletes are not like TV stars — they really do look like Gods when you see them on East 86th Street walking east through a sea of mortals wearing terrible shoes.
The boy and his Dad asked for Jeter’s autograph. What was I going to do — not ask? So I ripped a piece of paper from the baguette bag, handed it to Jeter and, holding it against his hand, he signed his name, making a joke about coming over for dinner. He went on to lead the Yankees through season after impossibly amazing season. It seemed like every year during that period, just when you thought they couldn’t top themselves, the Yankees would come from two games down to win four straight against the Braves (Maddox, Glavine, Smoltz) and win the World Series (1996); then they’d have the winningest season in baseball history (1998); then they’d make New York City feel like the best place to be in the world when they played, and beat, the Mets in the Subway Series (2000). And Jeter was always there, pounding hit after hit, doing his little clap whenever he landed on base. Every time he came up to the plate in a big spot, we sighed a sigh of relief, cause you knew he’d come through. You knew it! I still think of these years as the pre-9/11 golden era of New York , when every corner of the city – not just Yankee Stadium — was booming with possibility.
After meeting Jeter that night, I went home, breaded a chicken cutlet, sliced up the baguette, and called my then-boyfriend now-husband Andy who shared my excitement about the sighting. That’s the thing about Jeter, boys had crushes on him, too. (Unless you are from Boston, in which case I hope you like our lamb chops enough to supercede the DALS Yankee allegiance.)
A lot has happened since then. I married Andy, for one. As I type, my seven-year-old daughter is kicking a soccer ball against the side of our suburban house as her nine-year-old sister reads Pseudonymous Bosch beside her. I’ve racked up almost 4500 dinners in my dinner diary while not paying nearly enough attention to the Yankees, the team that played in the stadium two blocks from where my dad grew up in the South Bronx. And Derek Jeter? He’s been busy, too. He’s been steadily racking up his own numbers — in case you haven’t heard, over the weekend he became the first Yankee in history to reach the 3000 hit mark.
And three thousand hits later, as his team is still relying on him night after night to come through in the clutch, guess what I’m still falling back on for dinner? Those breaded chicken cutlets. The recipe is not A-Rod flashy, but it’s the kind of dish that you can build an A-Team around. If you’ve got the cutlet in your line-up, you can have Chicken Milanese (above) or Chicken Parm or Chicken with Cold Asparagus Sauce. We have a bunch of these kinds of meals in our rotation, and it’s funny, even though in theory I have an entire diary filled with adventurous answers to the question What do we make for dinner?, inevitably I fall back on one of the old reliables. Ladies and Gentlemen, our MVPS:
1. Breaded Chicken Cutlets
2. Pasta with Caramelized Onions, Spinach, and Parmesan
3. Chili: Either Turkey or Chicken
4. Shrimp with Feta
5. Salmon Salad
6. Pasta with Turkey Bolognese
7. Fried Flounder (below)
Like Jeter, they’ve been there from the beginning and always, always come through for us.
Number 7: Pan-fried flounder. A summer favorite that shows up in the diary on a weekly basis.
PS: The SI cover above was pinned to my office bulletin board for four years. I found it over the weekend in a folder labeled “Things I Just Can’t Throw Away.”