“Justice Is Served” Must-Read Memoir Shares Stories About Women’s Rights & Cooking For RBG

The following is an excerpt from ‘Justice is Served: A Tale of Scallops, The Law & Cooking for RBG’, by culinary mystery series author Leslie Karst, out April 4 from She Writes Press.

Leslie was a small-town lawyer who was good at a job she hated and had taken up cooking as a way to spice up the daily grind. Spice is exactly what she got when her offer to cook for Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and her husband was accepted. Leslie was terrified – she had never thrown a high-stakes dinner before!

What follows is a lighthearted account of Leslie’s journey following this challenge – including a new unexpected connection with her partner and her parents, an inspiring trip to Paris, mouthwatering recipes, Ginsburg’s transformation from Jewish girl from Flatbush to one of the most celebrated justices in our nation’s history, and the dinner itself. A heartfelt story of simultaneously searching for delicious recipes and purpose in life, ‘Justice is Served’ is an inspiring reminder that it’s never too late to discover—and follow—your deepest passion.


Dinner cooked by Leslie January 28 would be fine. R.B.G. 

So I read the message on the screen, an email forwarded from my father. Blinking rapidly to keep my contact lenses from wigging out, I had to stare at the words—succinct though they were—and concentrate, to make sure I was reading them correctly. 

Yes. It did say that. 

I leaned back in my chair to let the significance of the text wash over me, then laughed out loud—one of those giddy, explosive laughs, akin to the bark of the fat sea lions that like to hang out at our fisherman’s wharf. 

My partner, Robin, wasn’t home, so no one heard me but our dog Rosie, who’d been asleep on the couch. She lifted her head at the sound and looked my way expectantly, her enormous bat-like ears at full attention. Then, when I kept on chuckling and shaking my head and slapping my knee, she decided something was up and jumped off the couch to investigate. 

I took Rosie’s soft face in my hands and looked into her soulful eyes. Even though she was half Border Collie, I knew she could not be expected to understand the full import of the communication I had just received. But I had to tell someone the exciting news. 

“Rosie,” I announced proudly, “I am going to cook dinner for United States Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.” 

Turning to stare once again at the email message on my computer screen, I took a deep breath. It was May 3, 2005, and I had nine months to plan the most important and elegant dinner party of my life. With a slow exhale, I did my best to ignore the wave of heat that had swept over me like a Santa Ana wind. 

And then I smiled. 


From Pescara to Paris and the Pacific 

The email didn’t come as a complete surprise. Some months earlier, my father and I had been discussing his upcoming retirement after forty years as a constitutional law professor at the UCLA School of Law. We were seated at Robin’s and my dining room table, cups of coffee and the morning newspaper spread out before us. 

“You know that I’ve kept in touch with Ruth Ginsburg, right?” Dad asked. 

“Sure,” I said. “At least I remember her being one of the ‘law people’ you and Mom used to refer to back when I was a kid. And I always assumed you stayed friends over the years.” 

“Well, it wasn’t as if we were ever close friends. ‘Warm colleagues’ is probably a better description.” Dad tapped an index finger on the side of his ceramic mug. “Back when she was still teaching, we used to exchange friendly notes and reprints of the legal articles we’d published, and then after she was on the bench, I’d occasionally recommend students to clerk for her.” 

“Uh, huh . . .” The wheels spinning in my brain were trying to ascertain where exactly this conversation was going. Dad took several sips of his black coffee, in no hurry to get to the point, then finally set down the mug and cleared his throat. “So anyway, ever since Ruth was appointed to the Supreme Court, I’ve been trying to convince her to come give a talk at the law school, but she’s never accepted my invitation.” 

A pause. “Until now . . .”
“What? You mean this time she said yes?”
His mouth twisted into a sly grin. “She didn’t exactly commit to coming, but when I told her that next year would be my final one teaching—and hence her last chance to come speak at my invitation—she did indicate that she might accept.” 

“Ohmygod,” I blurted out. “If she does say yes, you and Mom should invite her for dinner, and I can come down to your house and cook.” I’d mostly been joking and expected him to merely laugh in a “ha-ha, that’s a ridiculous notion” kind of way. But instead, Dad cocked his head, a serious look in his eyes. 

“That sounds like a great idea,” he said. 

Whoa. Had I really just agreed to host a dinner party for Ruth Bader Ginsburg? What on earth had I gotten myself into? 


My father and Ruth Ginsburg had met in the 1960s, when he’d been teaching at Ohio State and she at Rutgers. At the time, the two were both involved with comparative law, Dad focusing on Latin American land reform issues and Ruth on Swedish civil procedure. 

I still have a vivid picture of my mom recounting the first time she met Ruth at some “law thing” in Italy. It was the summer of 1970, and I was almost fourteen and not the least bit interested in the Congress of the International Academy of Comparative Law, except that it meant my parents would be away for several weeks, leaving us kids in the care of a hired sitter. 

We adored Mitzi, who let us pretty much run wild and who quickly exhausted all the money my folks had left for expenses, spoiling us with all kinds of decadent junk food my mother would never buy. Little did I suspect—as my adolescent taste buds were reveling in frozen pepperoni pizzas, Doritos, beef jerky, and ice cream sandwiches—that some thirty-five years hence I’d be preparing a lavish, gourmet feast in honor of one of the attendees of that “law thing” in Italy. 

Meanwhile, during one of the free days at the comparative law congress on the other side of the globe, some of the law professors and their spouses went to the beach at Pescara, on the Adriatic Sea. 

“I walked down to the water,” my mother later told me. “It was calm. More like a lake than the ocean. And the water got deep, up to your waist, and then shallow again as you walked out.” Mom smiled at the memory. “And there was little Ruth in her bathing suit, testing the water with her toes. We waded out together, giggling.” 

She demonstrated for me, prancing about with her arms half raised, looking just like a schoolgirl. (I suspect, however, that this reenactment more accurately represented my ever- schoolgirlish mother than it did the demure law professor.) “And that’s how I first met her,” said Mom. “Who would have guessed that little Ruth, the shy Swedish civil procedure professor, would someday become Justice Ginsburg, seated upon the United States Supreme Court?” 

The daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst waited tables and sang in a new wave rock band before deciding she was ready for “real” job and ending up at Stanford Law School. It was during her career as a research and appellate attorney in Santa Cruz, California, that she rediscovered her youthful passion for food and cooking, at which point she once again returned to school—this time to earn a degree in culinary arts. Now retired from the law, Leslie spends her days penning the Sally Solari culinary mystery series, as well as cooking, gardening, cycling, and singing alto in her local community chorus. She and her wife and their Jack Russell mix split their time between Santa Cruz and Hilo, Hawai’i.

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