You’re Lucky You’re Funny: How Life Becomes a Sitcom
The following excerpt is the prologue to “You’re Lucky You’re Funny: How Life Becomes a Sitcom,” (Viking, 2006) a memoir by Phil Rosenthal, creator and executive producer of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Copyright Â© 2006 by Buona Sera Productions, Inc.
My brother, Richard, got married on September 5, 1993. I was the best man, and with that honor comes the giving of the toast. I had been earning a living as a writer on an assortment of television sitcoms for about four years at this point, and so I felt there was an expectation to be humorous whenever forced to speak in public — a self-imposed pressure, but real nonetheless, as if I deeply needed to communicate to people, “See, I can be funny, it’s not my fault the shows are terrible.”
And so I racked my brain for material. Material at family functions often focused on the family at hand, and my particular family had served me well in the past — years earlier I wrote a little poem at my parents’ twenty-fifth anniversary party (at their nonstop insistence) that seemed to be hilarious to the relatives and friends. “Better than Broadway!” I had been told. But now, at this wedding, I was thirty-three, and there were people there who didn’t know the family, and worse, didn’t know me — but here he is: the Hollywood toastmaster. This could be a bad wedding, meaning I could bomb. And then it hit me, an anecdote that had actually happened, that I had suppressed for several years, that drove me nuts then and thinking about it again now rekindled the nuts, and that illustrated the insanity in our family and would serve as a warning to Richard’s bride, Karen, as to why she should perhaps reconsider marrying into this psycho ward. Why she should run screaming into the hills rather than subject herself to a life of unrelenting complaining and unbearable frustration, petty domestic politics and life under maternal rule. The more I thought about this story, I realized it wasn’t funny at all, but that didn’t matter anymore. I had to tell it as a purely cautionary tale. The fact that the toast would come at the wedding reception and that my brother and his wife would be already married didn’t change the urgency of my warning.
“Karen,” I started. “There is still time to run.”
I explained: When I first started to make a little money in Hollywood, I bought my mom, for Hanukkah, a gift of the Fruit-of-the-Month Club.
And then came the phone call from my mother in Rockland County, New York: “Philip, we got the pears.”
“Oh, that’s good, Ma. You like them?”
“Yes, they’re very nice, but please . . . it’s an entire box of pears. There must be twelve or fourteen pears here. There’re so many pears. Please, Philip, do me a favor. Don’t ever send us any more food again, okay?”
I said, “Well, Ma . . . another box is coming next month.”
She said, “What? More pears?”
I said, “No, Ma, a different fruit every month.”
“EVERY MONTH? My God, Max, he got us in some kind of cult. What am I supposed to do with all this fruit?”
“I don’t know,” I told her. “Most people like it. You eat it … You share it with your friends.”
“I don’t know … Lee and Stan.”
“Lee and Stan buy their own fruit!”
“Oh my God, Ma…”
“Why did you do this to me?”
“What is happening?”
“I can’t talk anymore, there’s too much fruit in the house!”
I went on to describe my father’s misery as well at this misfortune that had befallen them. (“You think we’re invalids? We can’t get our own fruit?”) The wedding guests laughed. No one laughed harder than my parents, who really did treat the gift of fruit from their son as if they’d received a box of heads from a murderer. Richard and Karen remain married to this day and have even brought two children into the world.
My warning didn’t take. Nobody listens to me. Maybe you will.
I guess if we have to classify this book, it is a memoir of sorts. (That’s right, Oprah, and I’ll swear it’s all true even if you make the mean face at me on the couch.) We’ll also, if you’re interested, get into how to make a show, specifically the show “Everybody Loves Raymond.” We’ll see how it came to be, how “writing what you know” is not just a saying but essential, and how almost anyone’s life can be turned into fuel for comedy. We’ll use, for example, my life — where I’m from, the other jobs and other shows I toiled on, my relationships with family, with women, with The Writers’ Room, with show business, and how all of it found its way into the work, became the work, to the point where it wasn’t work anymore. And all of it is here — in the hope that you’ll be entertained, and maybe learn a thing or two that could help you in your own career, your life, your diet. You’ll learn a little about how to write, cast, edit, direct, run, cater, and, most of all, enjoy the gift of a hit show.
I was crazy lucky to get such a gift, and for nine years, I savored it; I loved it; I was tremendously thankful for it. It would not have occurred to me to return it or leave it or be unhappy with it, let alone complain about the gift to whoever gave it to me that it was all “too much.”
You still there, Ma?
On Oct. 24 from 7-8:30 p.m., Phil Rosenthal will be at Book Soup, 8818 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles.
A dessert wine with a healthy finish
If you’ve been to the supermarket lately, you’ve probably noticed that the hottest trend in the food industry is pomegranate products.
Several years before the trend got started, a family in Israel’s Upper Galilee region began working to create a tastier and healthier version of the ancient fruit, only to cross their way into yet another huge food market. Their product: the world’s first pomegranate wine fit to be sold to international wine connoisseurs.
The story began ten years ago, when father and son Gaby and Avi Nachmias, the third generation of a farming family who were founding members of Moshav Kerem Ben Zimra in the Galilee, began experimenting to create a new strain of pomegranates. Understanding the fruit’s excellent therapeutic qualities, their goal was to engineer a “super fruit” that would be richer in vitamins and antioxidants, sweeter, and deeper in its red color than most pomegranate types.
By 2003, after several years of growing their new strain successfully, the family tried making 2,000 bottles of pomegranate dessert wine from their crop. Everyone who tasted it loved it, the family says, and they built a production line the following year to produce dry and dessert wines in commercial quantities.
That batch was also well received, and the following year the family founded the Rimon Winery, named after the Hebrew word for pomegranate, and began producing en masse and for the local and international markets.
“In general, pomegranates don’t have enough natural sugar to ferment into alcohol on its own,” Leo Open, Rimon’s director of international marketing, said. “In the past, some people have added alcohol to pomegranate juice to create a form of liquor, but no one has successfully made wine. Our pomegranates are the only ones in the world that have enough sugar to do so naturally.”
Rimon’s orchards also benefit from ideal pomegranate-growing terrain, on a plain of basalt-rich soil high above sea level, just a short distance from the Lebanese border. Starting this year, the company began featuring a product line that includes a dry wine, a dessert wine, a heavier port wine with 19 percent alcoholic content, and a rose wine.
The family also produces pomegranate vinegar and a line of cosmetics made with oils extracted from the fruit. The winery’s main task for now is building sales, with a strong emphasis on overseas exports.
“Earlier this year, we started exporting to the Far East, and we are now in touch with people in the United States, Europe and even South America. Getting a product known is a slow process, and there is plenty of bureaucracy, and a long supply chain of importers and distributors to contend with,” Open says.
“We’re in the very first stages, but things are moving. We expect to be available in U.S. markets before the end of the year.”
The progress occurred despite the Israel-Hezbollah war, which saw missiles landing near the family’s orchard every day. Open says the company wasn’t too concerned that an attack could destroy its orchard.
“We were committed to getting through this and moving forward,” he says. “The situation was tough for all businesses in the North, but we continued to make contact with distributors.”
Pomegranates are one of Israel’s oldest indigenous fruit species, and were mentioned in the Bible’s praises of the land 3,500 years ago. The fruit has a strong place in Jewish tradition, and many have the custom of eating pomegranates on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
The fruit also features prominently in ancient Greek mythology, and are commonly eaten at Greek weddings and funerals. Nowadays, the sweet and tart pomegranate has become one of the fastest growing trends in the food industry.
According to product data service Productscan, some 215 new pomegranate-flavored foods and beverages were brought to market in the first seven months of 2006, compared to just 19 for the whole of 2002. Pomegranate flavors are finding their way to everything from natural fruit juices to chewing gum and even sausages.
The rise in popularity stems partly from growing medical interest in the crimson fruit’s health benefits. Pomegranates are naturally high in polyphenols, powerful antioxidants that are helpful in fighting a variety of health problems ranging from cardiovascular diseases and inflammation to certain types of cancer.
Studies have even begun suggesting that the fruit may even be helpful in alleviating menopausal and post-menopausal symptoms in women (pomegranate is the only plant known to contain estrogen) and erectile dysfunction in men. Couple that with their naturally high levels of vitamins A, B and C, calcium and iron, and it’s no wonder the fruit is being touted as a health panacea.
And, Open notes, the antioxidant content of pomegranates is three times higher than that of red grapes.
Rimon Wineries stands to grab the coattails of the surge in international wine sales. That market has been growing strongly since the early 1990s, and Israeli wines in particular have been undergoing a “revolution” in recent years.
Both local consumption and exports of Israeli-made wines are growing at more than 10 percent a year, while the rise of quality boutique wineries around the country is helping to increasing international recognition. Pomegranate wine, which is kosher for consumption by religious Jews with none of the rabbinic stringencies of grape wines, looks to fit nicely into this niche.
The process of making pomegranate wine is similar to that of most grape wines.
The winery gathers the fruit’s juices into large steel tanks to ferment for about a month, and then ages them in the same types of French oak barrels used by most wine producers before the product is bottled and sold. The only point where the pomegranates need special treatment is at the beginning of production, when a specially-designed machine opens the fruits and scoops out its edible seeds, crushing them for their juice.
“Like with all wines, the fermentation process is totally natural,” Open says.
That being said, pomegranate wines clearly belong to a different class than the typical reds and whites, and Rimon recognizes that the market has to treat it as such, Open says.
Mark the New Year with late summer harvest menu
A recent trip to Italy made me aware of the wonderful possibilities of growing your own lush, flavorful garden-fresh food. The villa where we stayed was entirely self-sufficient, with magnificent varieties of produce, eggs gathered from the hen house and the proprietors even making their own wine and olive oil.
If you have a garden, you know the pleasure of eating the freshest of salad greens, tomatoes, vegetables and fruits. And since the weather is still warm as Rosh Hashanah arrives at sundown on Friday, Sept. 22, take advantage of the healthy garden bounties and prepare a light menu featuring the late summer harvest of fresh vegetables and fruits to celebrate the New Year.
If you’re not a gardener, visit some of the local open-air farmers’ markets. The Wednesday morning Santa Monica farmers market is one of the largest, and there is an organic Saturday market as well, where the selection and variety is very impressive.
After a special round challah and apple slices dipped in honey, start the dinner with a simple salad of avocado and tomato slices served on a bed of pungently flavored arugula and dressed with a tangy orange vinaigrette. Hopefully, you will be lucky enough to make it with full-flavored tomatoes from your garden; nothing compares with vine-ripened tomatoes. If they are not available, your local farmers’ market will have a selection of the tasty heirloom tomatoes.
Arugula is not only trendy and delicious, but very easy to grow, and seeds are available at most nurseries.
Next, serve a chilled beet borscht, my version of gazpacho, and pass around bowls of chopped cucumbers, green and yellow bell peppers, and chives, for a colorful do-it-yourself garnish.
The main course is a whole roast chicken that has been butterflied and baked on bed of fresh vegetables — a combination of garlic, onions, celery, carrots, parsnips, squash and potatoes, and garnished with fresh herbs from your garden. With this dish we will drink a special toast for a peaceful year with a glass of young, fruity chardonnay.
For dessert, late summer pl
ums, arranged in colorful circles on a light pastry dough make a delicious eye-appealing tart. Serve a sweet late harvest wine or hot tea with lemon, and let the children choose their favorite fruit juice.
Cold Puree of Beet Borscht
4 medium-size beets, unpeeled
4 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Diced green and yellow red peppers
Scrub the outside of the beets using cold water, place in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer until a fork inserted in the beet is tender, about one hour. Cool. Remove the beets, but reserve the liquid. Peel the skin, which should come off easily, and discard.
Dice the beets and return to the liquid. Place half of the diced beets and liquid in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Transfer puree to a bowl and repeat the process with the remaining beets and liquid. Add lemon juice, sugar and salt to taste and mix well. To serve, ladle into shallow soup bowls and garnish with cucumbers and peppers.
Makes eight to 10 servings.
Avocado, Tomato and Arugula Salad
Usually avocados are served mashed or chopped. For this dish, simply slice the avocados and tomatoes, which enables them to harmonize with the pungent-flavored arugula.
2 avocados, peeled and seeded
Juice of 1 lemon
2 large tomatoes, sliced
3 cups loosely packed arugula, coarse stems discarded
Vinaigrette dressing (recipe follows)
Pomegranate seeds for garnish, optional
Cut each avocado into nine to 12 lengthwise slices. Sprinkle with lemon juice and set aside. Slice tomatoes and set aside.
Wash arugula and dry. Slice and mound arugula on chilled plates, fan the avocado slices around the mounds and arrange the sliced tomatoes in the center.
Spoon enough vinaigrette over each salad to coat leaves, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with pomegranate seeds, if desired. Serve immediately.
Makes six to eight servings.
1 tablespoon Dijon-style prepared mustard
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup walnut oil
Salt, freshly ground black pepper
Place mustard, vinegar, lemon juice in a processor or blender. Add oil in thin stream and blend until slightly thick and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Butterflied Roast Chicken With Medley of Vegetables
1 (4-pound) or 2 (2-pound) whole chickens
1 onion, sliced and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
4 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 parsnip, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium potato, diced and steamed
2 tablespoons minced parsley
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon each dried basil, thyme and rosemary, crushed
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 to 3 cups dry white wine
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Split the chicken along the entire length of the back, removing backbone from tail to neck. Open it out, skin side up. With a mallet or the heel of your hand, flatten the chicken, fracturing the breastbone and ribcage, so it lays flat. Arrange vegetables on a foil-lined large roasting pan, and place the chicken on top, skin-side up.
Mix garlic and rosemary together. Working with your fingertips, separate the skin from the meat of the chicken, beginning at the neck end, being careful not to tear the skin. Place sliced garlic and rosemary under the skin, including the drumsticks and thighs. Mix together the olive oil and herbs and rub it on the top of the chicken and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Pour the marinade over the vegetables and chicken and bake for l0 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees, and bake for 45 minutes to one hour longer, depending on the size of the chicken. Baste every 20 minutes. If chicken browns too quickly, cover it loosely with foil. If the marinade cooks away too quickly, add more. Remove the foil during the last 10 minutes, allowing the chicken to brown.
Don’t Get Plagued by Tricky Desserts
Many a great cook has been sent over the edge trying to produce some beautiful Passover baking. Any other time of the year their kitchens produce perfect pies, crunchy cookies and lovely cakes — but the Passover arrives and the kitchen becomes the enemy: cakes flop and the cookies crumble.
This year plan on easy desserts. After a huge meal (is there anybody out there that doesn’t have a huge seder meal?) why not serve coffee with some fresh fruit and an assortment of cookies.
2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups ground almonds
Preheat oven to 300 F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Using an electric mixer with a whip attachment beat the egg whites and salt until frothy. Add vanilla and continue beating on high.
As you beat the eggs, slowly add the sugar, one tablespoon at a time. Continue beating until the eggs are stiff and glossy.
With a spatula, fold in the almonds.
Use two spoons to drop heaping tablespoons of the mixture on the baking sheet.
Place in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, until lightly golden. Cool.
Makes 16-20 cookies.
2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa
2 cups coconut, shredded
Using an electric mixer, start beating the egg whites with the salt until frothy and very soft peaks form. Add the vanilla and continue beating on high.
Add the sugar one tablespoon at a time, continuing to beat until the eggs are glossy and stiff peaks form. Add the cocoa and beat until incorporated.
Add the coconut and fold in.
Use two spoons to drop batter on a parchment lined baking sheet (they should be heaping tablespoons). Leave the macaroons on the counter for at least 30 minutes before baking.
Place in a preheated 325 F oven and bake for 20-25 minutes until the macaroons are no longer glossy.
Remove from oven and cool.
Makes 18-20 cookies.
Pecan Cranberry Passover Biscotti
1 1/2 cups ground pecans
1 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder — (Passover)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon orange zest
1/4 cup potato starch
1 3/4 cups cake meal
1/2 cup dried cranberries
Use an electric mixer with a paddle attachment to combine the eggs, oil, vanilla, sugar, baking powder, salt and orange zest and mix on medium to combine well. (You can also use a wooden spoon and mix by hand.)
Turn the machine off and add the potato starch, cake meal and pecans. Turn the machine on low to combine and mix until all of the ingredients come together to form dough.
Add the cranberries and mix to evenly distribute throughout the dough.
Divide the dough in half and form into two logs, approximately 3 inches by 12 inches by 14 inches. If you find the dough too sticky, dust your hands with cake meal to work with the dough. Place the formed logs on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and place into a preheated 350 F oven. Bake for 20-25 minutes. The biscotti will crack and loose the shine it had when it first went into the oven. Let cool. Reduce the oven temperature to 300 F.
Carefully slice the logs into pieces, about 3/4 inches each. Arrange on a cookie sheet so that there is space between each cookie and return to the oven.
Bake for 25-30 minutes until dry.
Makes 20-24 cookies.
A Home in Nature
On Sukkot, we eat and sleep in a hut called a sukkah. We can see the stars and feel the wind. It reminds us of how dependent we are on nature to survive. This is a holiday to remember that nature is dependent on us, too. What can you do? Grow a garden. Don’t throw garbage into the ocean. Recycle. Love nature: hike in it, bike in it, swim in it!
Fruit of the Land
Y’know, it’s easy to get food nowadays. Just go to the supermarket and pick out some stuff. It wasn’t always so easy. People grew their fruits, vegetables and grain. If it didn’t rain, or rained too much, their crops would be ruined and they wouldn’t be able to eat. Dates and grapes — two of the fruits we eat on Sukkot to remind us of the fruit that grows in the Land of Israel.
1 package (8 ounces) pitted dates
1 cup raisins
1Â¼2 cup sugar, divided
1Â¼4 pound (1 stick) margarine,
cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
11Â¼2 teaspoons cinnamon
1Â¼2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 cup chopped walnuts
White decorating icing
in tube with writing tip
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Grease a large baking sheet.
In a food processor with a metal blade, pulse dates, raisins and 1/4 cup sugar until coarsely chopped.
Remove to a seperate bowl.
Place margarine and 1/4 cup sugar in food processor and process until mixed. Add vanilla and eggs and process until blended. Add flour, cinnamon, salt and orange juice. Pulse in walnuts. Mix together with raisins and dates.
Here’s the really fun part:
Remove dough to prepared baking sheet and shape it into a shofar about 17-inches long, 6 inches at its thickest point and 2 inches at its thinnest point.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until lightly browned. It will feel soft in the center, but will firm up as it cools.
Several hours before serving, write L’Shana Tova with white decorating icing across shofar.
Makes 16 servings.