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Upper East Side Cookbook Dishes Recipes in Faux Memoir

By Amy Zimmer | October 4, 2011 7:02am | Updated on October 4, 2011 8:32am

MANHATTAN ­— Linda Olle likes to cozy up in bed with cookbooks.

But since recipes might not make for the most scintillating of reads, Olle decided to dream up her own Upper East Side working girl, who frequents fancy fundraisers and posh restaurants between cooking chicken pot pie, coconut lentil soup and smoothies filled with such ingredients as Maca root.

She created the character "Parsley Cresswell" who, like Olle is a freelance fashion editor living paycheck to paycheck in a crumbling brownstone amid the elegant museums, takeout bike delivery men and size-zero ladies walking with their red-soled heels and poodles in Gucci sweaters in the city's most refined neighborhood.

"The Upper East Side Cookbook: Main Course," which tells Cresswell's stories and the simple, easy-to-prepare meals she eats, is due out from Parsley Press (a publishing house Olle created) on Oct. 18.

It's a follow-up to the author's self-published first volume, "The Upper East Side Cookbook: Setting the Table in a Time of Slender Means," released in 2009.

"Parsley noticed that no one cooks on the Upper East Side," Olle writes in "Main Course."

"Oddly enough, she cooked more on the UES than she did in other neighborhoods. In the most expensive neighborhood in practically the entire world, Parsley had to tighten her belt to make ends meet. She went far afield to shop."

Olle's Cresswell moonlights as a restaurant critic, often taking home doggie bags to build the base for other meals by adding celery and onions.

A previous night's baked potato is repurposed in a frittata with sliced scallions, grated extra sharp Wisconsin aged cheddar and a dash of Tabasco sauce, for instance. Leftover veggies are turned into a soup, using an immersion blender with chicken stock and a pinch of curry powder.

Cresswell gave the now-closed Elaine's just two stars for its "gelatinous spaghetti served with a sauce like cat food" and overpriced wine. But the character did sit at a table next to "a celebrity divorce lawyer and a four-time Oscar nominee, close enough to eavesdrop on juicy conversation, so the night was a roaring success," the book says.

Cresswell's world — like Olle's — incants the old charm of the Upper East Side's book-loving community. Creswell belongs to the Upper East Side's New York Society Library, a members-only institution founded in 1754 — with women among the charter members, the book points out. She shops at the Corner Bookstore on Madison Avenue near East 93rd Street and at the nearby Kitchen Arts & Letters on Lexington Avenue , which stocked Olle's first Upper East Side cookbook.

Olle, 58, has done stints as an editorial assistant at The New Yorker, as a researcher for Garrison Keilor's "Prairie Home Companion" and as a researcher for the New York Public Library's collection on the English Romantics, called, "Shelley and His Circle."

Olle told DNAinfo she was inspired by the author Doris Langley Moore, whose research in the NYPL collection of Lord Byron's shopping lists helped flesh out details of his lifestyle, such as his bulimic tendencies. 

In "Main Course," Olle explained, Cresswell writes in her notebook — beside remarks on the noise level, ambience and décor of the now-closed Bistro du Nord on Madison Avenue — "Can cooking for oneself ever be quite as memorable as a meal in a posh restaurant?" 

"She has a fantasy of having a relationship with Bob Dylan," said Olle. "I have that fantasy, too," she admitted.

While their lives overlap, there are some differences.

"She's much harder working," Olle insisted of her character. "She'd like to have a dinner party on weekends. I'd much rather read a book."

Unlike her creator, Cresswell has many boyfriends, Olle said. "I wanted to giver her a thrilling life that I would like to have and create a book that people would want to take to bed with them."

Here's an example of a recipe from the book:

Shortbread Petticoat Tails Excerpted from Linda Olle's "The Upper East Side Cookbook: Main Course"

1 cup (two sticks) butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp almond essence

2 cups flour

Coarse salt, one pinch

Coarse sugar to sprinkle on top

Knead blended ingredients on a floured surface. Roll out to half-inch thickness and pat into a buttered springform pan. Decorate edges with the handle of a spoon or tines of a fork. Score into 6 or 8 slices. Bake 20-25 mins at 325oF.  Bake until firm in the center and just starting to color. Let it rest slightly when it comes out of the oven, then sprinkle with coarse sugar.

Note: Whole wheat flour can be substituted for white. For Ginger Shortbread add 1 tsp ground ginger and 2 T crystallized ginger, finely minced. For Green Tea Shortbread add 1 T powdered green tea (matcha) and almond or vanilla essence. Green tea shortbread — green tea powder cuts the unctuousness of all the butter. Parsley Cresswell feels very guilty as she eats a second piece.