Laura Schroff was a successful advertising executive for the start-up national newspaper, USA Today, in Manhattan when Maurice, an eleven year-old panhandler, approached her for money on 56th St. and Broadway one Sunday afternoon. Initially she ignored him, walking right past. But then, for some reason, unknown even to her, she turned around and offered to buy him lunch at McDonald’s. That encounter was the start of an unlikely friendship that lasted for more than thirty years and is still going strong. Maurice’s is a story of survival. His father was abusive at first, then mostly absent from Maurice’s life later. His mother was an addict who was never a caregiver, but someone who needed to be looked after herself. There were his sisters who were older and wrapped up in their own lives, and a string of uncles with colorful nicknames who were all physically present in Maurice’s life, but there was no one to provide for his basic needs. So Maurice spent most of his time on the streets, finding ways to feed himself. Laura and Maurice soon fell into a routine where they met every Monday. As they spent more time together, Laura tried not to interrogate Maurice too much about his home life, so she never really knew just how tenuous Maurice’s domestic situation was. For his part, Maurice was curious about what Laura did all day. When she explained her job to him, he was amazed that she did nearly the same thing every single work day. Not only did his mother not work, no one in his family had a conventional job. Growing up in an environment like that, there was so much that Maurice didn’t know that Laura took for granted. Take for example, the first time Maurice came to dinner at Laura’s tiny apartment she asked him to set the table. When she noticed his hesitation, she showed him where the knives, forks, spoons and napkins, etc. were placed on the table. Laura worried about crossing a line with Maurice. She wanted to be his friend, and to be there for him, but she also recognized that she was not his family, and most of all, she did not want to give him expectations about his future that were unattainable. So, while she dispensed wisdom about living life in the way that a teacher or parent might do, she also tried not to preach, and took her cues, instead, from Maurice.
This was a heart-warming story about two people of vastly different ages and backgrounds forging a lifelong friendship that enriched both of their lives. I loved the pictures of Maurice and his family, and I loved this book.
Maurice’s extended family
The first meal Laura and Maurice shared was at McDonald’s, and was probably the most important meal, but I’m not going to make a copycat recipe of a McDonald’s burger with fries. So another important meal was their fourth together, when Laura invited Maurice to her apartment for a home cooked dinner. Before she started cooking, she initiated an important conversation with Maurice. She said that she considered Maurice a friend, and that friendship is based on trust. After making sure that he knew what she meant, she promised never to betray that trust and said that if he betrayed her trust, their friendship would have to end. Maurice was amazed that all Laura wanted was to be his friend. In his experience, adults usually wanted something from him. He was so relieved! So on this important evening, Laura made broiled chicken and pasta with vegetables. Not much to go on, so I had a lot of leeway. This meal took place in 1986. Since Laura was a busy working girl, I’m guessing she would have taken advantage of some corner-cutting these days by purchasing a pre-cooked “trustworthy” rotisserie chicken. Here is my version of that trust-enhancing meal.
Rotisserie Chicken with Roasted Vegetables, Linguine and Aglio e Olio Sauce
4 C small broccoli florets (about 6 ounces)
4 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into ½-inch pieces
1 large onion, large chop
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
8 ounces linguini (break linguine in half)
8 cloves of garlic, sliced into large chunks
¼ C olive oil
½ C dry white wine
1½ C chicken stock
1 rotisserie chicken, meat cut into small chunks
½ C grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Preheat the oven to 425°F. Place broccoli, carrots and onion in a small bowl. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil and sprinkle with salt. Toss to coat vegetables evenly. Arrange in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet. Roast until browned and soft, about 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook pasta according to the package directions.
Saute garlic in ¼ cup olive oil until soft, 2-3 minutes. Stir in the flour and cook for 2- 3 minutes until the roux begins to turn golden. Add the white wine and chicken stock, stirring until smooth and simmer to reduce by half, about 10 minutes.
Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup cooking water. Return pasta to the pot. Add chicken, the vegetables, sauce, and cheese. Reheat over low heat if necessary, adding some reserved pasta water if it seems dry.