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At The High Court, A Tribute To A 'Chef Supreme'

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At The High Court, A Tribute To A 'Chef Supreme'

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At The High Court, A Tribute To A 'Chef Supreme'

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

If you drop by the gift shop of the United States Supreme Court, you will find a cookbook among the items on sale. It's a book with a very personal connection to the court. The spouses of Supreme Court justices put together that cookbook in honor of the late Martin Ginsburg, husband of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. He was a leading tax lawyer and amateur chef, which is why the book is titled "Chef Supreme: Martin Ginsburg." Here's NPR legal affairs correspondent Nina Totenberg.

NINA TOTENBERG, BYLINE: The idea for the cookbook came from Martha-Ann Alito, wife of Justice Samuel Alito. It hit her the day after Marty Ginsburg's memorial service.

MARTHA-ANN ALITO: One of my first conversations with Marty, in the fall of 2006, was about food and nourishment, and how satisfying an expression of love that it was for him. And that also led to the idea that we should put the cookbook together.

TOTENBERG: The other spouses quickly agreed. They'd often teamed up with Marty to provide the food for the monthly spouse lunches. But none of them had any idea what a large undertaking the cookbook would be. More on that in a minute. But first, a word about Marty Ginsburg's love affair with cooking. It began, strangely enough, when he was in the Army at Fort Sill, Oklahoma with his new bride, the young Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Neither of the Ginsburgs knew much about cooking then, but one of their wedding gifts was "The Escoffier Cookbook," the bible of French cooking. And so Marty, a chemistry major, began at page one and worked his way through the entire volume. As he observed in a 1996 speech, there was method to his madness.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

MARTIN GINSBURG: I learned very early on in our marriage that Ruth was a fairly terrible cook, and for lack of interest unlikely to improve. This seemed to me comprehensible; my mother was a fairly terrible cook also. Out of self-preservation, I decided I had better learn to cook because Ruth, to quote her precisely, was expelled from the kitchen by her food-loving children nearly a quarter-century ago.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TOTENBERG: Justice Ginsburg takes umbrage, sort of.

RUTH BADER GINSBURG: I think that is most unfair to his mother. I considered her a very good cook. In fact, one of the seven recipes that I made was her pot roast.

TOTENBERG: Over the years, Marty Ginsburg became a genuinely famous amateur cook, with a repertoire that ranged from French cooking to Indian to Italian to Asian. So when it came to deciding which recipes to include in the cookbook, the task was daunting. Enter Clare Cushman, director of publications for the Supreme Court Historical Society, which is publishing the book on a nonprofit basis.

CLARE CUSHMAN: So of course we have appetizers, soups, chicken dishes, fish dishes, meat dishes, desserts, as one would expect. But we were also looking for recipes that really showed his voice.

TOTENBERG: Cushman and some of her friends and colleagues at work cooked all the recipes they considered, narrowing the list to 106.

CUSHMAN: You sort of get to know him while you're cooking. The way he wrote his recipes was as if he was explaining them to a friend. I really felt like not only did I trust him that it would come out right, but he was almost with me saying, you know, you can do it. Like, for instance, this passage in the recipe for orange-scented biscotti, he says, "Knead the dough several times and divide the kneaded dough into two equal parts. This is a miserable, messy, ugly procedure because the dough is horribly sticky. Do your best."

TOTENBERG: Some of the recipes are quick and easy. Others are not. Martha-Ann Alito points out that the longest recipe in the book, covering four pages, is the recipe for making French baguettes.

ALITO: It exemplifies how Marty approached life. Very exacting and very precise.

TOTENBERG: Justice Ginsburg says it took her late husband more than a year to develop that recipe, experimenting with various approaches.

R. GINSBURG: The reason it's spread out on so many pages is that he didn't want to leave out a single step, so that the person who uses it won't have to go through the process that he went through to perfect it.

TOTENBERG: The book also features a variety of gorgeous pictures of food, of all the Supreme Court spouses at lunch, and of the Ginsburg family. Clare Cushman.

CUSHMAN: Obviously, when you have a recipe called Grandchildren's Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies, you want to have a picture of all the grandchildren with Justice Ginsburg.

TOTENBERG: But the piece de resistance is a photo of Marty Ginsburg wearing a classic French cooking apron, with his arm around Justice Ginsburg, who is dressed in her judicial robe. Again, Clare Cushman.

CUSHMAN: The best part about it is the way he looks at her, with just such an adoring gaze. And anyone who sees this cover knows that she was a very lucky woman.

TOTENBERG: The Martin Ginsburg cookbook is available online at SupremeCourtHistory.org or at the Supreme Court gift shop. Nina Totenberg, NPR News, Washington.

INSKEEP: And the picture Nina mentioned, along with some of the recipes, are at NPR.org.

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