A Manhattan loft with skyscraper views and salvaged restaurant equipment is the unlikely setting for an old-fashioned family supper.
Jennifer, Maile and Ridge Carpenter get together every Sunday night. But unlike most of America, the three beautiful twenty- and thirtysomething sisters, all of whom live in New York City, don't gather to watch HBO with boxes of take-out pizza. Instead they sit down, with Jennifer's husband, Dave Arnold, to a leisurely meal of homemade fried chicken, buttery dinner rolls and chocolate pound cake that is more a tribute to The Waltons than to The Sopranos.
In contrast to their old-fashioned Sunday night suppers, the Carpenters' weekdays are hectic in the modern, urban way. As Time Out New York's Eat Out editor, Maile is the first person to hit each new restaurant in the city. Jennifer is a partner at Truck, a firm specializing in tabletop and furniture design, and the mother of a 14-month-old, Booker. Ridge stays busy hiring babies as models for Parenting magazine photo shoots. Dave, the son of an electrical engineer, works as both a sculptor and a Web designer; in his downtime, he collects almost anything food-relatedthe more technical the better. The pride of his cookbook collection is a series of food-technology tomes, some more than 800 pages long, that he photocopied from a science library. "The Gastronomic Regenerator couldn't be moved from the research room, so I took a digital picture of each page and copied those," he recalls.
The Carpenters have had meals together since they were children; their father's military postings meant they were always living in new places, but family dinners were a constant. The family sat down every evening, whether they were in Alabama, Arizona or Germany. "Dinners went on for hours, until you just couldn't sit anymore," says Maile, who recently relocated from San Francisco to New York to an apartment near her family because she missed spending time with them. "When you move every three years, you lose your friends, but you always have your sisters," she adds.
The Carpenters' Sunday night suppers might still last for hours and feature their mom's recipes, but the setting now is entirely different. Dinners almost always take place at Jennifer and Dave's midtown Manhattan loft, in an industrial building that used to be filled with garment industry sweatshops. There's a long, narrow sliver of living area with a line of windows that offer views of the surrounding skyscrapers; scattered about are samples of Jennifer's modernist work, including laser-cut steel candlesticks, aluminum-and-leather bread trays and "2-way" wood tables with adjustable legs. Most of the apartment is a busy artist's studio, and much of it is dominated by the professional kitchen equipment that Dave has accumulated. An electronics and gadgetry wizard, Dave is a regular at restaurant auctions, where knowing how to fix a broken plug or rewire a stove can transform a piece of junk into a steal. His collection includes a two-head Rancilio espresso machine; an immense refrigerator that can hold six cases of seltzer, a case and a half of beer, a case of Champagne, a ham and a turkey and still be only two-thirds full; an antique meat slicer that he found on the street; and, nearest to his heart, a deep-fat fryer that heats six gallons of oil to 365 degrees in five minutes flat. "Thermostatic control is the way to goyou can heat it up and walk away. I get a lot of use out of that fryer, and it only cost me 50 bucks. Everyone should have one," he says firmly.
Fried chicken became a Sunday-night staple soon after Dave brought the fryer home, although he had some trepidation about the dish itself. "I was afraid of fried chicken. People always say their mom's is the best, and then it's not good at allthe crust is soggy, or it completely falls off," he observes. But after consulting several recipes and the battering and breading volume in his technical cookbook series, he developed an unbelievably moist chicken, brined in a mixture of salt, sugar and milk and coated with a buttermilk batter to form a supercrisp crust. The "leg ball," a deboned drumstick that Dave created for Jennifer because she doesn't like bones or tendons, is a popular piece. "Sometimes we feel guilty having fried chicken every weekend, and that's when we'll have something different, but that's not very often," Maile says, noting that the butcher has their order memorized. Dave makes the accompanying french fries using a wall-mounted restaurant appliance that cuts up potatoes; he cooks them in the deep fryer and serves them sprinkled with salt, in a large brown-paper cone. Maile and Ridge take turns preparing their mother's buttery and slightly sweet dinner rolls and Maile usually fixes the salad, fennel tossed with blue cheese, apples and a lemon dressing. The Carpenters always eat dessert; a rich cocoa sour cream pound cake is one of their favorites.
Conversation at the dinner table includes reports of everyone's week, but if Dave has brought home a new piece of equipment, it generally takes over the discussion. His most recent acquisition is a six-burner Garland stove, parts of which are soaking in the bathtub and disrupting shower routines; Jennifer isn't sure whether there's even room for it in the apartment. But she's mostly upbeat on the subject of Dave's equipment, recalling that when he brought home the espresso machine, which he picked up cheaply at auction, she didn't think there was space for that either. "And now we have the best coffee in the city," she says. "There's a week of everyone being extremely inconvenienced, but then our quality of life goes up twofold." The other sisters are even more enthusiastic about Dave's restaurant-equipment collection. "It's taken Sunday suppers to a whole new level," Ridge says.
Kate Krader is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She hopes to be invited back to the Carpenters' for supper.