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Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016 12:25 am

A force of nature

JULIANNE GLATZ Sept. 11, 1953 - Feb. 4, 2016



I got invited over for a cookout. We’re going to roast hot dogs over a bonfire, she said. Nothing fancy. Bring the kids.

I’m not sure exactly what I expected; I just couldn’t imagine Julianne Glatz unzipping a plastic pouch of Oscar Meyer weiners and handing me a stretched out wire coat hanger to dangle it over a fire. As anyone who reads this paper knows, Glatz had a complete relationship with food – as a connoisseur, critic, creator and consumer.

And sure enough, the “hot dogs” at her cookout were actually four kinds of brats from some famous butcher shop in Chicago. I remember several side dishes at this cookout, mainly a wicked baked macaroni and cheese. When I went inside to ask Julianne if she needed any help in the kitchen, I found her frying little hockey-puck-size potato donuts she had just whipped up in her food processor. She handed me a brown paper bag and told me I could shake the hot pastries to coat them with baker’s sugar. That’s the super-fine form of granulated sugar, in case you’re wondering (Julianne had to explain it to me). I do not even like donuts, but these were little discs of pure heaven.

I’m lucky (and you should be jealous) that I got to enjoy so many of Julianne’s famous feasts over the years – family celebrations, holiday extravaganzas, impromptu dinners (like that cookout), thanks to my friendship with her daughter Anne. I bragged on Julie often enough in our Monday morning news meetings at Illinois Times that at some point, my editor asked, “Do you happen to know if this woman can write?” I had no idea, so I called Anne, who assured me that her mom also had a way with the written word. The rest, as you know, is history. She wrote the weekly IT food column for 10 years.

Through these dinners, I also got to know Julianne’s other offspring – middle child Robb, who is a social worker in New York, and younger daughter Ashley, a professional caterer and chef. (Ashley and her father, Peter Glatz, have taken over Julianne’s column here.)

Julianne, center, presiding over Thanksgiving preparations.

These family members have been on my mind this holiday season, as I considered what it must be like for them to experience it for the first time without the force of nature that was their mother.

You have to understand something: The Glatz Thanksgiving wasn’t a meal; it was a production. There was never cranberry sauce from a can, or stuffing made from a mix, or a pie crust bought at Shnucks. Cranberries appeared in two forms (sorbet and chutney, which was introduced only after Julianne’s grandmother died and no one else knew how to make her jellied cranberry sauce). The stuffing was created using a family recipe that called for a variety of stale breads cut into cubes (but never any cornbread or rye). The pie crusts, from a Martha Stewart recipe, featured a border of miniature autumn leaves dusted with turbinado sugar.

There were, believe it or not, downsides. For one thing, dinner was inevitably served late. For another, the menu might as well have been written in the Bible. It was a ritual that had to be observed, completely, no matter what. Even that year when the power went out.

According to her kids, she wasn’t always like this.

“We grew up with farm food,” Ashley says. “It was really good, but not exotic. Chicken and noodles. Lima beans.”

Julianne was an avid reader, devouring everything from doorstop-size biographies of Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln to romance novels by LaVyrle Spencer. It was her love of reading that led her into next-level cuisine, Ashley says. Blame Gourmet magazine.

“I remember Christmas parties where she would take a styrofoam cone and cover it with curly parsley, then cherry tomatoes, then shrimp wrapped in snow peas, with remoulade nearby. It was crudites arranged as a Christmas tree,” Ashley says. “I remember restocking the shrimp on the tree.”

That love of reading was also a love of research. When Anne’s studies took her to Chicago, New York, the San Francisco Bay area and an intense six-month program at the Sorbonne, Julianne would always visit and show her around.

“She would read up on it, and find fascinating and wonderful things. She would become my tour guide in the place I lived,” Anne says. “Wherever I was, she would show that place to me in a richer and better way than I’d ever seen it before.”

Julianne never stopped educating herself. When Anne adopted two baby boys, Julianne became a devoted grandmother. And since both boys are black, she decided to study African-American history.

“She called me one day and said, ‘I’m 62 years old and I’ve never heard of white privilege but everything in my life comes from that.’ She took it on as an objective, as a necessary restructuring of the way she thought,” Anne says. “I know people shouldn’t get brownie points for being woke, but when you do it at 62, you get some points for that.”

All the best parts of Julianne’s cooking survive in her children. Anne and Robb carry on Julianne’s passion for complex cuisine but take their menus in a different direction. Anne, a vegetarian, skips turkey and makes Porcini-farro tart the centerpiece of Thanksgiving (it’s a meatless entree Julianne discovered in Gourmet magazine) while Robb rebels by using cornbread in his stuffing.

Ashley – keeper of Julianne’s 20 years of Gourmet magazines – follows her traditional Thanksgiving menu, but otherwise strives to strip the stress out of recipes.

“I had the most tempestuous relationship with my mother, but I’m also the most like her, without a doubt,” Ashley says. “I look at my mom’s recipes and pare them down, eliminate several ingredients. You cook differently when you have to clean up after yourself.”

Dusty Rhodes, formerly staff writer for Illinois Times, is the Education Desk reporter at NPR Illinois.


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