"I remember having this nephew come to visit and it happened to be a weekend when there were a lot of food people around. As he left, I asked him, 'Did you ever spend a whole weekend with people who never discussed anything else but food?' He said, 'No.'

"But there's always so much to talk about, isn't there?"

Though she does cook for herself, she doesn't do it as often as she used to. The kitchen is tiny. The only oven is a small under-the-cupboard model of one of those new quick-cooking gadgets. After a year and a half, she still hasn't learned to use it. It is the bane of her existence.

"It's got [programs] for different dishes," she says with exasperation. "It tells you what to cook, you don't tell it. And the book they give you doesn't tell you much about how it works, either. It tells you how to make something called Hawaiian Chicken, but not a roast chicken. I'm either going to find some way to short-circuit it or I'm going to take it out to the trash."

It's not that she's anti-technology. She is an avid fan of word processors. "You can take something off, transpose it somewhere else, save it somewhere, then present your publisher with a really nice, clean manuscript," she says. "Oh, it was terrible, before. You'd have to make four or five copies of everything and when you made a mistake you'd have to erase every one."

And the big Dell computer in the bedroom always seems to be on.

"I love working," she says. "You don't have to retire nowadays, do you? I don't even know what it would mean."


Tuna or Swordfish Steaks With Wine, Tomatoes and Herbs (Thon a la Provencale)

Active Work Time: 20 minutes * Total Preparation Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

This recipe is from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." A 40th anniversary edition was published last year by Knopf.

3 pounds tuna or swordfish cut into steaks 3/4 inch thick

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons lemon juice

9 to 10 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1/4 teaspoon pepper, divided

1 cup minced onions

3 pounds tomatoes (about 5 large tomatoes), peeled, seeded, and chopped

2 cloves mashed garlic

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano