The former nanny of Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis set the internet ablaze this week when she released intimate details of the demise of the famous Hollywood couple’s relationship. Olivia and Jason first started dating in 2011 and got engaged in 2013. The couple have two children together, a son and a daughter. They split in November 2020, and Olivia was first romantically linked to Harry Styles just two months later.
Olivia and Harry met in September 2020 after she cast him in her movie Don’t Worry Darling, and while Olivia has insisted that there was no overlap between the two men, the nanny recalled the moment that “brokenhearted” Jason learned about Harry to the Daily Mail.
The details that the nanny shared next sound like a scene that Nora Ephron might have once written.
Olivia infuriated Jason by preparing a salad for Harry with her ‘special dressing’ in the family kitchen – leaving him ranting furiously at her and filming the encounter, before he tried to prevent her leaving by lying under the car.
The nanny added: “Jason told me: ‘She made this salad and she made her special dressing and she’s leaving with her salad to have dinner with [Harry].’I said, what salad dressing?’
He said: “She has a special salad dressing she makes for us and she’s taken it to have it with him now. I don’t know what was in it.”
‘Out of everything, he was like, ‘she made her special salad dressing and took it to him.”
The day after the Daily Mail released the nanny’s story, Olivia shared an excerpt from Nora Ephron’s novel “Heartburn,” which featured the recipe for a salad dressing.
“Heartburn” is an autobiographical novel based on Nora Ephron’s marriage to and divorce from Carl Bernstein, her second husband. Originally published in 1983, the novel draws inspiration from events arising from Bernstein’s affair with Margaret Jay, the daughter of former British prime minister James Callaghan. Ephron also wrote the screenplay for the 1986 film adaptation.
The novel is a vivid depiction of the breakdown of a marriage. Its strong autobiographical content provides insight into one of the “power couples” of the late 1970s.
The narrator of the novel is Rachel Samstat (based on Nora Ephron), a food writer who is married to Mark Feldman (based on Carl Bernstein), a political journalist. Rachel is a Jewish New Yorker who has moved to Washington, D.C., to support her husband’s career. They have one son, Sam, and Rachel is pregnant with their second child as the book begins. The book wittily describes the life of an upper middle class intellectual couple replete with neuroses—Rachel is in group therapy, Mark agonizes over the mystifying disappearance of his socks. Threaded through the book are recipes and anecdotes which drive the story along and humanize Samstat.
Rachel’s self-esteem takes a huge battering as Mark has an affair with Thelma Rice (based on Margaret Jay) and she takes her revenge by telling the Washington grapevine that Thelma has a venereal disease.
Rachel’s diamond ring, given to her by Mark after the birth of their first son and stolen from her while at group therapy, is pivotal to the plot. Remarkably she gets it back when the police catch the robber. The stone is loose in its setting and she takes it back to the family jeweler for repair. Here she discovers that while she had been in the hospital giving birth, Mark had bought an expensive necklace for his lover Thelma. She sells the ring and the money enables her to go back to New York and start afresh.
Although it’s crucial to note that in “Heartburn,” the protagonist, a thinly veiled version of Ephron herself who makes the vinaigrette, is the devastated partner whose husband’s affair blew up their marriage. In the novel, the vinaigrette is a motif, a stand-in for something essential between husband and wife as well as the secrets they keep from one another. It also can be read as a symbol for marriage itself: a tenuous blending of disparate elements that can easily fall apart.
As Rachel experiences the indignities and wounds of Mark’s cheating, she sees everything through the prism of food. She wonders how he could live not just without her, but without the salad dressing she has perfected. “Even now, I cannot believe that Mark would risk losing that vinaigrette,” she muses. “You don’t bump into vinaigrettes that good.” And she wonders how her husband could be happy with his mistress, who has no interest in food and made “gluey puddings.” Recipes are scattered throughout the book, not separated out, but tucked into the text as in a conversation.
Ephron’s most perfect, tear-jerking rendering of food to console a broken heart comes in her passage describing potatoes. Beginnings of relationships, she writes, call for crispy versions: potatoes Anna or pancakes. Endings, though, call for something soft. “Nothing like getting into bed with a bowl of hot mashed potatoes already loaded with butter, and methodically adding a thin cold slice of butter to every forkful. The problem with mashed potatoes, though, is that they require almost as much hard work as crisp potatoes, and when you’re feeling blue the last thing you feel like is hard work. Of course, you can always get someone to make the mashed potatoes for you, but let’s face it: the reason you’re blue is that there isn’t anyone to make them for you.”
Back to the vinaigrette. Later in the book, Rachel returns to Mark after he promises to end things with his girlfriend, but she is rightfully wary. Mark asks her to teach him how to make the dressing, and she initially refuses. “I figured my vinaigrette was the one thing I had that Thelma didn’t (beside a pregnancy), and I could just see him learning it from me and rushing over to her house with a jar of Grey Poupon mustard (the essential ingredient) and teaching her the wrist movement and dancing off into a sunset of arugula salads.”
Finally, she breaks it off for good (a choice she cements by launching a Key lime pie at Mark’s face during a dinner party, in a scene memorably repeated in the movie version). Only then, in the book’s very last passage, does she share her vinaigrette recipe with her soon-to-be ex-husband as a sort of farewell gesture — and with readers, as if revealing something fundamental about their story.
As Ephron well understood, food and cooking is intensely personal. Each of us has recipes and flavors that evoke memories and emotions. Cooking for someone is a rather intimate act because you are expressing love and care for someone. Just like with food and water, for humans making connections is one of our basic needs. And cooking for others helps us build and strengthen those connections. Sometimes a salad dressing recipe isn’t just a salad dressing recipe.
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