Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Baci Il Cuoco

Much to my family's chagrin, I often remind them to thank the cook. They scoff, not because they are inconvenienced, but because they believe that the simple act of devouring a meal is indication enough that they enjoyed it. I disagree.
In this case, words just might speak louder than actions.

Several years ago, I stumbled upon a three-foot sign that reads
"Baci Il Cuoco." It means "kiss the cook" in Italian. I had to have the sign, not only because I believe in its message but because my beloved grandmother's maiden name was Cuoco, and any connection I have to her or my Italian roots is a good one. And so, the sign hangs high in my kitchen, not far from the one that reads "Mangia e statti zitto!" (loosely translated: "shut up and eat!"). For those of you who haven't already figured it out--I am an Italian-Italian wannabe. I am an Italian-American waiting for the genie to emerge from his lamp, so he can grant my first wish; the one that has my parents living in Italy, birthing and raising their brood of five above a pizzeria in Naples.
But alas, that is fodder for another post.

So let me get back to the subject of thanking the cook...
Surely, I need not remind you that cooking is as much an act of love as it is one of obligation.
I think we all need to take time out to thank not only the cook who prepares the meal, but also the one who found time to shop for groceries in between daily commitments and chaos. And while we're at it, shouldn't we thank everyone involved in getting our meals to the table?
We mustn't forget that from the farmer who rises early to pick our produce at its peak, to the cashier who works the late shift and carefully bags last-minute rotisserie chickens for harried, hungry, commuters, each plays a significant role.
The fact that we have any meal at all to share in these trying economic times is a blessing worthy of pause and gratitude.

I spent a significant amount of time this past week reflecting upon all that I have to be thankful for, specifically the blessings I have been afforded in 2008. Although it seems I was foolishly short-sighted in my own annual resolutions, so many others rose to the occasion and made me proud to call them my friends or relatives (or both).
I didn't follow through on Oprah's advice to start my own gratitude journal, and perhaps that will be something to consider for 2009. Instead, I made it my mission to thank a few special people on their birthdays and remind them (in many, many words) of their qualities and contributions for which I am so grateful. These are the people who remain oblivious to the fact that they consistently teach me valuable life lessons because they teach by example (and for the record, they remain oblivious because they are too busy helping others to notice). They provide me with a higher education of sorts; one that exceeds the parameters of professional development--they are the ones who simply make me want to be a better person.

And where education is concerned, I am no longer afraid to admit that I am still learning how to learn. At forty-something, I struggle with a not-so-reliable memory and I've had to face the cold hard truth that whatever education I seek will likely be limited to short-term retention. I am an avid reader and most of what I choose to read is culinary in nature. My failing memory has turned out to be a blessing at times because there are many kitchen experiments I'd rather forget. Sadly, the same condition has not befallen those who dine with me regularly, and perhaps this is the true reason they occasionally neglect to thank the cook. Nonetheless, I remain mindful of the basic tenets of good cookery; using the freshest ingredients and the best tools available.

Recently I was reminded of the value of great cookware. I was hosting a holiday gathering with friends when a curious neighbor inquired about my pantry cabinet and why I chose to store cookware inside, instead of the obvious non-perishables. I responded with a wordy complaint about the cookware's heft and size and my need to have it in close proximity to my stove. Our dialogue prompted me to demonstrate and lift the largest enamel-over-cast iron dutch oven I owned onto the stove, where it sat for two days until I was inspired to put on a pot of hearty soup. Quite honestly, making gallons of
pasta e fagioli seemed easier to me than the prospect of wrestling with the pot to return it to its rightful place. The soup was a huge success but the thought of storing leftovers and washing that pot was daunting at best. I used every last Tupperware within my arsenal to freeze the leftovers and filled the dutch oven with warm soapy water to soak, dreading the task of scrubbing the pot clean.
A short time later, much to my amazement, that pot cleaned up like a dream, with no elbow grease involved.
For a moment, I stood alone in my kitchen, embarrassed. When did I become a middle-aged, kitchen wimp with a failing memory?
Really, I can't answer that because I can't remember. Had I recalled why I shelled out top dollar for these pots in the first place (superior heat conduction, low maintenance, easy to clean), I might have been more motivated to use them. But there is a greater lesson to be learned here. I soon realized that on more than one occasion in my life, I have avoided tasks that, while rewarding at their completion, are difficult in their execution.
Simply stated and as shameful as it is for me to admit it, I dislike hard work. But who doesn't?

Reality dictates however, that most of us are strangers to what hard work really is. The majority of us will complain about the day job, the rush-hour traffic that follows and the self-inflicted, organized chaos we impose upon our children for fear of 'downtime'. There will never be enough paid vacation or sick days to appease us and the minor catastrophes we classify as "crisis" pale in comparison to what others endure. It shames me to think that I complained about lifting a
too-heavy pot in the comfort of my own kitchen, blessed to have more than enough ingredients to feed a not-too-hungry family, because this has been a painful year for so many, both financially and emotionally.
I have to believe that things will get better, but until they do, I can't think of a better time for us to practice being better people and put words into action.

In addition to the ones that hang on plaques in my kitchen, I am reminded of adages I heard throughout my childhood but didn't fully understand until not so long ago.
Perhaps these will serve as guideposts as I navigate through a new year of hope and possibility.
I invite you to join me and make any or all of these your own:

Many Hands Make Light Work

If You Won't Help, Don't Hinder

A Simple Life is its Own Greatest Reward

Dirty Hands = Clean Money

If we all gathered, formed a circle, and placed our problems in the center, when asked to pick one out of the center to keep, each of us would likely take back our own.

Kiss the Cook

Shut Up and Eat

Until next time,

Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


Sunday, December 21, 2008

Food Forethought

My long hiatus from blogging has officially ended.
While it was imperative that I focus my attention on health and family, the subject of great food was never far from my mind.

Presently, while the visions in my head aren't necessarily of sugarplums, I find myself distracted from my annual holiday
bake-a-thon (one contestant, no spectators, and A LOT of butter), as I contemplate a menu for Christmas Eve.

For years, I have wanted to recreate the traditional Christmas Eve
Feast of the Seven Fishes.
It is quite possible that I totally made up the name of that feast. There might have been more or less than seven fishes and if my memory serves me correctly, it's more of a seafood fiasco than a feast. Nonetheless, I want it, whatever it's called, and no matter how many crustaceans have to be sacrificed--I WANT IT.

There is a foggy childhood memory that haunts me to this day; one Christmas Eve, my mother presented me with an early gift. It was a rabbit fur coat with a matching hand muff, to be worn over my Sunday best. I knew we were going someplace special because an early gift was a rare occurrence.
We left holiday mass and headed for an unfamiliar address. When we arrived at the crowded house, we were ushered to a finished basement crammed with plastic-covered banquet tables, at which were seated more blue haired relatives than I had met in my lifetime. Most spoke Italian (quickly), while few spoke the same broken English as my live-in grandmothers. I was immediately taken by the smell of the basement. It was intoxicating. It was spicy and familiar and it made me hungry. As I looked around however, I was terrified of what stared back at me from huge silver bowls placed at the center of each table. Creatures I thought I recognized from encyclopedia photographs sat rigid and lifeless in pools of red velvet sauce. A feeling of panic set in and I prayed hard and fast for a slice of pizza that never materialized. I am haunted by this vivid memory, not for the sake of dead sea life, but instead because I was too young and too foolish to let such gastronomic pleasure pass me by. If only I could time-travel backward to that feted night, I would refuse the compensatory bowl of spaghetti and instead indulge, elbow to elbow, with the blue haired and the bibbed, savoring every morsel of such briny fare. But alas, it must remain only as a distant memory, rife with missed opportunities.
I long to mimic that night and play hostess to a bevy of tentacled treats.
Sadly however, I seem to be the only one in my family excited by this prospect and would likely be left to face the cracking of crustaceans alone. Each year I propose we make this tradition our own, and each year the Christmas Committee (a.k.a. my own Italian American fish-phobic family) rejects my proposal.
Had I been more diligent in my search to find a true-to-tradition Italian family, willing to adopt me for Christmas Eve, I wouldn't be faced with the daunting task of whipping up an impressive meal on the Eve of the year's most gastro-spectacular holiday.
Oy, the pressure.

While others might be content to compromise, my stubborn,
all-or-none mentality, won't allow me to.
I want the whole Italian shebang. If I can't have it all, then I don't
want ANY of it.

And so, I have decided upon a prime rib roast for dinner.
No shrimp cocktail.
No lobster tail with bland, American butter sauce.
Not even baked clams on the half shell.
No surf. Just turf.

Let them eat steak.

Until Next Time,

Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food



Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wait, Watch Her

It's a delicious September day here on Long Island and in my estimation, a perfect day to get back to blogging. I've missed the opportunity to share my daily rants with you, but I'd be lying if I didn't admit that my time off was a welcome hiatus from my ordinary life.

I want to get back to what's important (our never-ending discussion about food, of course) but I owe you at least a few details of how my summer was spent.
Let's just say I've been around the block a few times. Literally.

I left you in June with the notion that I would inevitably succumb to the pressures of dieting and join countless others in an organized
(read: conformist) attempt to shed unwanted pounds.
And so I did.
I forked over the hard earned cash and joined the club no one wants to belong to. The most difficult task however, was the prospect of owning my number on the scale. I much prefer the don't ask, don't tell policy when it comes to weighing in, but unfortunately, this wasn't an option.
Thankfully, the institution I joined is like Vegas, what happens there, stays there.

I won't bore you with the minute details of my struggle with points and portion control, so, in a nutshell, here's what happened:
I followed the plan.
I complained a lot.
I ate less and exercised more.
I lost fourteen pounds (with fourteen more to go)
And then I quit.

Yep, that's right, I quit.
I probably would have earned useless (albeit pretty) key fobs and incentive charms had I stuck around long enough to meet specific benchmarks (and ultimately my goal weight), but I had an epiphany somewhere along the way and decided that thirty bucks a month would likely have greater impact on my life being put to more entertaining use at a casino.
I should probably also mention that my first trip to a Connecticut casino yielded this beginner two thousand clams from a shiny slot machine. Needless to say, I'm more than willing to consider replacing my food addiction with gambling.
But seriously, after months of following the plan, I became resentful of some of the information presented to members by "meeting leaders." Some days, I felt like a test subject for a pilot program that might have been called "Dieting for Dummies." Most of the question and answer sessions were interrupted by plugs for brand products conveniently sold at meeting locations.

And interestingly enough, the leader and the receptionist who couldn't even remember my first name, and rarely took the time to provide detailed answers to multi-faceted questions (well, how can a ten-ounce cupcake add two pounds of fat to ones hips???) suddenly found the time to hand write postcards telling me they missed me and wanted me back ,after I quit.

And so, although the plan works and it's basically fool proof--if you follow the rules--I credit my slowly shrinking waistline to more than just a commercial diet plan. The fact is, I received more motivation and willpower from my walking buddy than any meeting leader might have afforded me.
I mentioned earlier that I had been around the block a few times and this is the real story of my gradual (and ongoing) success;
On a pleasant night some time in late June, I spied my neighbor walking her dog. We were previously acquainted through neighborhood gatherings and high school theatre events in which both of our teenage daughters were active participants. I always thought she was a peach of a gal but life's hectic pace and our over-scheduled kids never left much opportunity for socializing.
On a whim, I decided to throw on my sneakers and offer to join her (if I had it to do all over again, I would have remembered the socks. At least now the permanent scars from subsequent blisters have some sentimental value). What transpired in the weeks that followed was better than anything I could have outlined in my commercially manufactured "Activity Journal."
My neighbor and I established an almost-daily walking routine that strengthened our resolve as much as it did our legs.
Instead of dreading the three-quarter mile trip around our circular neighborhood as I had before, time flew by, as did the miles, while we chatted about our lives--past, present, and future. We commiserated over snack-attacks, chore-challenged husbands, and our need to manage the chaos of everyday life. We rewarded ourselves from time to time (okay, a little more frequently than that) with impromptu trips to our local Crackbucks for macchiatos and lattes (you're smart enough to figure out which venue I'm referring to. Their beverages are so addictive, we're sure they're laced with something--hence the name).
And for every pound I shed, I gained new insight into the successful management of dieting and friendship and how they aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, I probably owe my walking buddy at least half the credit for keeping me on track, literally and figuratively.
That is not to say that we don't fall off the proverbial wagon and succumb to the occasional slab of lemon pound cake. But we get back up, dust ourselves off and acknowledge that life offers little joy without the occasional indulgence in great food (and I assure you, nothing, and I mean NOTHING, that comes pre-packaged and stamped with the commercial diet plan seal of approval qualifies as great food).

With summer winding down and two successful months under our belts, I was blindsided by a nasty summer illness whose presence still lingers today. I was benched from walking for a while and it was during this recuperation that I gave some deep thought to the prospect of quitting the club.
Undoubtedly, I was enjoying life as a smaller version of me and I was eager to reach that seemingly attainable target number on the scale. But smaller jeans weren't providing me with the euphoria I expected. I was missing something and my futile attempts at suppressing the truth of the matter were waring me thin but unhappy.
You may recall that I decided to hang up my apron in June. I took off the oven mitts and intended to live life as one of the others (the ones who don't cook or bake, and don't care to). But I was fooling no one--least of all myself. This leopard couldn't change her spots any more than she could exchange her pots for pre-packaged meals. I needed to come to terms with the fact that I missed my kitchen and my gadgets. And more importantly, I missed the experience of sharing great food with the people who love me no matter what size my jeans are.

And so I made the decision to quit.
But not in the sense that I gave up dieting, weight management or portion control.
I tried to explain to my meeting leader (and a nosy receptionist) that I would continue the plan on my own and on my own terms. They scoffed. They regurgitated statistics about success rate (or lack thereof) without the support of fellow members and moderators.
I explained that I had a strong support system (with no prepayment necessary) and that I was eager to experiment with a more realistic approach to weight management. One that allows a food-centric woman to indulge in the occasional cupcake without the need for calculation or confession.
They wished me well but told me in no uncertain terms that I would likely return; and they would embrace me with open arms (after I paid for registration, stepped onto the scale, and slapped on a name tag).
I left the diet center with a bit of apprehension.
While motivated, I was still unsure of how to balance my love of food with my need to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. I didn't want to prove them right and return to the center pounds heavier than the weight at which I joined. And so, where does that leave me?

I am fueled by the knowledge that healthful eating is only as complicated as I make it.
I have heard tell from seasoned chefs that the quality of a meal is only as good as the tools and ingredients used to make it. I believe the same can be said for lifestyle as it pertains to good health and weight management. Like those obscure kitchen gadgets rarely used, but tucked safely away in my kitchen drawer should a need arise, I possess the essential tools to maintain a more slender, healthier me. I realize now that I have always had these tools at my disposal but failed to call upon them in the past for fear that life would be flavorless.
I understand now that I can have it all; I can have my cake and eat it too.
The slice may be a bit smaller but I'd rather have a small slice of real cake than a perfectly portioned low-fat popsicle any day. And if reality dictates that my pasta portion must be downsized, then so be it. A petite plate of pasta beats the pants off a platter of soba noodles any day.

And when all else fails, and I become deaf to the voice of reason, hearing only the sweet song of sinful indulgence, I will turn to my greatest defense--the support of a friend who understands and acknowledges the joys and struggles a food-centric life affords.

I take comfort in knowing that I am not alone.
Like me, there are so many who fight the daily battle between good health and happiness (and let's face it, they're not called Happy Meals for nothing).
If more of us took the approach that whatever food vices or demons we battle, the simple (but sometimes difficult) act of moderation makes a healthier weight more manageable.

Perhaps I am a bit misguided as that meeting leader suggested.
Maybe I am prime candidate for relapse and reconciliation.
But I'm betting on my success.
Visualization worked for me in an effort to improve my chances at the casino. I imagined a windfall sizeable enough to afford the purchase of a laptop. And today, as I type away at my new MAC Notebook, I imagine a happier, healthier me, preparing great food and savoring the flavors of a food-centric and fulfilling life.

For those meeting leaders and members who watched this hopeful woman make her exit, I would implore them to reserve judgement and avoid the urge to assume that her failure is inevitable.

Just wait, watch her.

Until next time,

Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


Monday, June 2, 2008

Driving Without a Map

Well, after much deliberation, I have decided to give myself the summer off from writing and baking. I'm not sure which one I will miss more.
It seems that I have lost something, but I haven't yet been able to identify what that something is. Perhaps it is my mojo after all.

Recently, I took some time to read through my older posts in an attempt to discern in what direction (if any) I am headed.
As it turns out, in writing (as in life), I am better able to find my way by following intuition rather than by following a map.

During a late night out with girlfriends and a lengthy debate over the long-term effectiveness of commercial (read: expensive) diet plans (requiring the purchase and consumption of diet-brand
pre-packaged meals), I reached the unfortunate conclusion that my skinny alter-ego wants her moment in the sun (sans baggy t-shirt). Encouraged by a friends recent weight loss (seventeen pounds in what seems like twenty minutes--Kudos to you, girlfriend--you look marvelous), I am struggling to find my own solution. I am strongly opposed to commercial diet plans for a long list of reasons which I won't bore you with (not the least of which is that I cannot justify spending the same amount weekly for my own meals that I would spend to feed a family of four-and don't get me started on health concerns over foreign ingredients and microwave dependency).

At this juncture, I only know a few things:
I know that I cannot afford to replace my pesticide-laden produce with organics.
I know that I cannot cut it as a farmer or a farmer's wife (and speaking of which, has anyone seen that show Farmer Wants a Wife? Although I hate to admit it, I'm addicted to the show--and not just for the sake of taking a gander at Farmer's six-pack--have you seen those quilts?).
So getting back to organics, growing my own produce is out of the question.
I know that I hate to exercise but love to dance.
I know that I wish laughing was a competitive sport because I'd be quite a contender.
I know that wine doesn't really cut it as a TV snack, even if you pretend to chew it.
I know that tankinis are made for one body type only, and apparently, I don't have that body type.
I know that buying a skirted bathing suit means you should probably just wear shorts.
I know that swim shorts were invented for women who avoid wearing skirted bathing suits and ultimately, everyone knows why you bought the shorts.
I know that I wish those flattering swim cover-ups were water-proof.
I know that having darker, tanner skin doesn't necessarily make you look smaller (I guess that rule only applies to black pants).
I know that a great straw hat can draw attention away from too-wide hips (but one should avoid wearing said straw hat into a rough ocean).
I know that when I stand in front of a mirror, wondering why the bathing suit I loved last year only looks good this year when accompanied by a straw hat, a flattering cover up and high-heeled wedge sandals, it has nothing to do with the bathing suit (seriously, how does one swim in heels anyway?).

And finally, I know that a diet plan which allows for cupcakes
and foot-long hot dogs probably requires purging, and so,
I'm still looking for a diet plan.

That's it.
That's all I've got.

I'd like to add however, that my search isn't only about weight loss.
I suppose I'm as good a candidate as any for a perimenopausal
forty-something crisis (if that's what this is then someone should warn my loved ones).
As the parent of one college student (who enjoys living away from home more than I ever expected she would) and one teenager (in desperate need of drum lessons and concert tickets), I find myself with a bit more time to focus on my own needs. My inability to define those needs outside the realm of edibles, is what terrifies me.
For far too long I have depended on the confines of my kitchen to serve as a safety net and welcome distraction from life's little catastrophes. And although there is no greater confidante than homemade bread dough (active, responsive, resilient and attentive-all the qualities of a good friend with no baggage), I am eager to untie my apron strings and experience a life without oven mitts.

I can't change the fact (nor do I wish to) that I am a hard-wired food lover. I still rise and rest to thoughts of gastronomic pleasure.
But I need more.
I recall a friend's grandmother saying "Sometimes, it's good to be hungry."
I'm not sure I'll ever know exactly what she meant by that. I have a feeling however, that for me, personally, a little hunger might do me a world of good.

And so, my search begins without a plan, a map, or a recipe to follow.
Yesterday, this would have been a daunting prospect.
But today, intuition is on my side.

And come to think of it, I'm a little bit hungry.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


Have a delicious summer!
See you in the fall.

Monday, May 5, 2008

When Life Isn't Fare

In general, mankind, since the improvement of cookery,
eats twice as much as nature requires.

~Benjamin Franklin

I spent the better part of this past week weighing the pros and cons of joining a gym (I’ll pretty much weigh anything to avoid putting myself on the scale). I’m just not sure I have the right personality for a gym-goer. I’m not a fan of routine and I prefer the kind of exercise that happens by accident (not to mention that our local gym is in the same parking lot as a really good bagel place and with gas prices being what they are, I can’t justify NOT picking up a dozen for the weekend).
I’m also concerned that I might not be any good at working out. For the past decade I’ve worked hard to perfect my skills as a power-walker and I fear that cross-training might confuse muscle memory (and since I already suffer from CRS, this could be dangerous).
By weeks end, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that in order to meet my weight loss goal, I basically have two choices:
(1) I can become one of those people who eats to live, rather than one who lives to eat.
(2) I can hire a local bakery to drive their truck at a moderate speed consistently just yards ahead of me, around and around my circular neighborhood for a daily five-mile chase, and then speed off before my eager palms meet buttery brioche.

Again, gas prices being what they are make the latter totally impractical, and so I am left to face the harsh reality of being someone who is genetically predisposed to the enjoyment of food and the distaste for exercise.

I wanted to believe that it was just a myth that some people eat only to live because the very thought of such a lifestyle saddens me.
The person who eats only to live likely doesn’t spend much time thinking or learning about food. Without understanding the finer nuances of food, it seems impossible that one could enjoy the flavors and the sensory experience it has to offer. But over time, I have been forced to finally acknowledge that such alien creatures exist, as they have infiltrated my family and my friendships.
Black-belt dieters will tell you such a lifestyle is about choice, commitment and willpower and has little to do with nature.
While this may apply to some (and I will be first to applaud their determination), I would argue that the greater population represents a dichotomy as simple as the question boxers or briefs?
Most of us fall into one of two categories; either you love food,
or you don’t.
It’s no secret that ones relationship with food is paramount to the body’s well-being. In this case, there is good love and there is
bad love. We all know that emotional eating can be the catalyst for a myriad of physical and mental complications, but the love I am referring to is more about the appreciation for the sensory experience food has to offer, and not for a void it is expected to fill.
Explaining this isn’t as easy as it may seem, but allow me to try.

A few years ago I discovered my unfortunate inability to understand or appreciate wine. Glass for glass my own pedestrian assessment of “dry” or “sweet” paled in comparison to my husband’s descriptive interpretations and his ability to detect flora and flavor unfamiliar to my oeno-phobic palate.
To this day, he cannot wrap his head around my affinity for cheap wine (and even the occasional wine cooler), and I just don’t get what the big deal is about wine in general. If it tastes good, I’ll drink it (truth be told, I’d rather have a Sam Adams).
I may never understand how one glass of wine can be interpreted so differently by two people, but I completely appreciate the passion with which my husband approaches his first sip. The complexities of wine elude me but the passion for such a flavor-driven experience is an old familiar friend.

I would argue that those who eat to live are not passionate about food. They understand and accept the need to satiate hunger but will never know what it means to mourn the loss of good food. This is precisely why they rise above the rest of us as successful dieters (I would imagine these are the same folks who suggest that it is inadvisable to shop for groceries when one is hungry.
Who pray tell, shops for groceries when the pantry and fridge are full? Chances are if I’m at the grocery store, it’s because the cupboards are bare and I’m starving—not withstanding the fact that I’m always hungry

I wish I could eat just for the sake of squelching hunger, and drink for the sake of quenching thirst. But we, who live to eat, approach food with all of our senses—and perhaps more.
We spend much of our waking hours thinking about food—all food; the good, the bad, and the ugly. For us, the simple act of feeding others can be euphoric. We read about food. We talk about food.
We talk about reading about food. Cookbooks are our novels and the kitchen is our playground. We plan meals. We make meals. We share meals. When free time allows, we watch food on TV. We visit online communities and e-chat with like minded individuals worldwide about food. We ask questions about food and we share our knowledge of food. We live vicariously through the global gastronomic experiences of others. Some of us bake for sport, and feel true joy when others indulge in our efforts. When night falls, we rest well thinking about tomorrow’s first cup of coffee and another day filled with gastronomic possibility (and somehow we manage to squeeze in those mundane tasks like daily household chores and shopping for the basics. When we go to the market for food, staple items are often secondary—seemingly inconsequential. I’ve been known to get lost in the produce department as I ponder the beauty and succulence of seasonal fruit, and then proudly return home with a cache of nature’s perfectly ripened specimens, only to realize that we are still out of toilet paper and milk).

Living to eat is joyful.
The experience of a fine meal can be so much more than a physical one. Breaking bread is spiritual beyond religious parameters.
A meal shared is flavorful medicine for the soul.
But as with any medicine, there are side effects. Not the least of which is the potential for a forty-something, rapidly-expanding waistline.
Apparently, I’ve got a lot of potential.

And so presently, the scale and I are in a bit of a tangle.
If I could rewind the clock twenty-five years, the solution
would be simple. I would call upon the wisdom of adolescent
meal-management and go back to eating dinner in my bikini.
But alas, there are now adolescents of my own to consider.
I must spare their appetites the atrocities of my midsection and
find another solution.
Thankfully however, with middle-age comes middle-wisdom. I am acutely aware of my ever-morphing middle and experience has taught me what meals and measures are necessary to motivate my metabolism. I need to focus once again on whole foods; fruits, grains, lean proteins, and anything leafy and green.
I need to put down the pie and pick up the pace. I need to drink like a fish and pee like a race horse and…well, you get the idea.
Knowledge is indeed power, but dieting is still a pain in the ass.

As I consider the challenges of calorie counts and portion control, I am painfully reminded of what seems like a lifetime of schizophrenic eating.
I have been many versions of me— from mini-me to maxi-me, and everything in between. Comparatively speaking, there is more of me today than there was just a few years ago. This applies not only to my physical being however, but to my emotional and spiritual being as well.
The irony here is that by all (non-physical) measurements, I like me in my present form better than all the others. My mind, body and heart are all more substantial than they were in my twenties or my thirties.
So how do I shrink the outside without shrinking the inside?
If I remove food (as I know it) from the equation, basically it would change the whole equation.
I suppose I might find a new hobby, but how does one knit while holding a cupcake?

Clearly, it’s time for me to make a few changes—but I don’t have to like it.
For years I was able to get away with the no pain, no gain philosophy of eating. I would avoid any exercise that pained me, eat whatever I wanted (in moderation) and gain little or no additional weight.
Today however, I wear a slice of pizza much differently than I did in my twenties.

Perhaps it’s time to reassess what a moderate ice cream sundae looks like. Better yet, I might have to skip the ice cream sundae altogether and find something a bit more figure friendly.
This is not a happy time.

Back in my successful dieting days (before I discovered the joys of panna-cotta, and crème brulee), Jell-O was the panacea of choice for my need to be desserted. Today however, I think I would rather chase that bakery truck for ten miles and indulge in an occasional crème brulee than resort to such vivid, synthetic sweets.

And so I am left to solve a dilemma that is perhaps unsolvable.
I might just take another crack at my husband’s copy of
Wine for Dummies. Instead of reaching for a vanilla cone with sprinkles, perhaps I’ll do my heart and hips a favor and choose a glass of Cabernet instead (although I’m not sure how to get
the ice cream man to comply

In the meantime, I haven’t ruled out that gym membership.
A friend of mine tells me she knows a great personal trainer
who will whip me into shape in time for bathing suit season.
I wonder if he likes cheesecake?

Because from where I sit,
Life is fare.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


I can’t resist the urge to share with you some (okay, more than some) funny quotes about eating and dieting.
We’ve all been there at one time or another and it’s nice to be reminded that we are not alone in our daily struggle.
If hunger strikes while you're reading (and unless you're a speed reader, it will), allow me to recommend my new favorite candy bar; actually, it's not a candy bar at all but instead a fruit and nut,
flavor-packed bar with no funky ingredients. It's called a LARA BAR and it fills the need when hunger strikes. I hesitate to call this a
meal-replacement bar because for me, it doesn't cut it. When I'm at work however, it solves the dilemma of 5(+)hours with no break. Instead of reaching for the usual, portable fat-laden snacks, I grab a Lara Bar. To date, my favorites include Cashew Cookie, Key Lime Pie, Pecan Pie and Cherry Pie. These are gluten-free, dairy-free and preservative free. The bars never contain more than six ingredients and I believe they qualify as raw food (if you're into that kind of thing). They can be pricey but if you shop around (read:Amazon), you can usually find a coupon code for a quantity discount and free shipping.
Whoever this Lara is, I love her.

Now, chew on these (delicious enjoyment, zero calories):

The cardiologist's diet: If it tastes good, spit it out.
~Author Unknown

One should eat to live, not live to eat.
~Cicero, Rhetoricorum LV

Inside some of us is a thin person struggling to get out, but they can usually be sedated with a few pieces of chocolate cake. ~Author Unknown

I feel about airplanes the way I feel about diets. It seems to me that they are wonderful things for other people to go on.
~Jean Kerr, "Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall," ~ The Snake Has All the Lines, 1958

I've decided that perhaps I'm bulimic and just keep forgetting to purge. ~Paula Poundstone

In the Middle Ages, they had guillotines, stretch racks, whips and cahins. Nowadays, we have a much more effective torture device called the bathroom scale.
~Stephen Phillips

People are so worried about what they eat between Christmas and the New Year, but they really should be worried about what they eat between the New Year and Christmas.
~Author Unknown

Albert Einstein, who discovered that a tiny amount of mass is equal to a huge amount of energy, which explains why, as Einstein himself so eloquently put it in a famous 1939 speech to the Physics Department at Princeton, "You have to exercise for a week to work off the thigh fat from a single Snickers." ~Dave Barry, Dave Barry Turns 50

I've been on a diet for two weeks and all I've lost is fourteen days. ~Totie Fields

Rich, fatty foods are like destiny: they too, shape our ends.
~Author Unknown

The biggest seller is cookbooks and the second is diet books - how not to eat what you've just learned how to cook. ~Andy Rooney

Gluttony is an emotional escape, a sign something is eating us.
~Peter De Vries

If hunger is not the problem, then eating is not the solution.
~Author Unknown

Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels. ~Author Unknown

If I had been around when Rubens was painting, I would have been revered as a fabulous model. Kate Moss? Well, she would have been the paintbrush.
~Dawn French

No diet will remove all the fat from your body because the brain is entirely fat. Without a brain, you might look good, but all you could do is run for public office.
~George Bernard Shaw

The first thing you lose on a diet is your sense of humor.
~Author Unknown

Food is like sex: when you abstain, even the worst stuff begins to look good.
~Beth McCollister

I go up and down the scale so often that if they ever perform an autopsy on me they'll find me like a strip of bacon - a streak of lean and a streak of fat. ~Texas Guinan

Life itself is the proper binge.
~Julia Child

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst, for they are sticking to their diets. ~Author Unknown

I recently had my annual physical examination, which I get once every seven years, and when the nurse weighed me, I was shocked to discover how much stronger the Earth's gravitational pull has become since 1990. ~Dave Barry

Food has replaced sex in my life; now, I can't even get into my own pants. ~Author Unknown

To lengthen your life, shorten your meals.

You can't lose weight by talking about it. You have to keep your mouth shut. ~Author Unknown

I think I just ate my willpower.
~Author Unknown

If you really want to be depressed, weigh yourself in grams.
~Jason Love

Brain cells come and brain cells go, but fat cells live forever.
~Author Unknown

I am a nutritional overachiever.
~Author Unknown

The second day of a diet is always easier than the first. By the second day, you're off it. ~Jackie Gleason

If food is your best friend, it's also your worst enemy.
~Edward "Grandpa" Jones, 1978

I have a great diet. You're allowed to eat anything you want, but you must eat it with naked fat people. ~Ed Bluestone

A diet is a plan, generally hopeless, for reducing your weight, which tests your will power but does little for your waistline. ~Herbert B. Prochnow

I'm not overweight. I'm just nine inches too short.
~Shelley Winters

People say that losing weight is no walk in the park. When I hear that I think, yeah, that's the problem. ~Chris Adams

As for food, half of my friends have dug their graves with their teeth. ~Chauncey M. Depew

To promise not to do a thing is the surest way in the world to make a body want to go and do that very thing. ~Mark Twain, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, 1876

I'm on a 90-day wonder diet. Thus far, I've lost 45 days.
~Author Unknown

The commonest form of malnutrition in the western world is obesity. ~Mervyn Deitel

I've been on a constant diet for the last two decades. I've lost a total of 789 pounds. By all accounts, I should be hanging from a charm bracelet.
~Erma Bombeck

My advice if you insist on slimming: Eat as much as you like - just don't swallow it. ~Harry Secombe

I am not a glutton - I am an explorer of food.
~Erma Bombeck

Forget about calories - everything makes thin people thinner, and fat people fatter. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, 1966

When I buy cookies I eat just four and throw the rest away. But first I spray them with Raid so I won't dig them out of the garbage later. Be careful, though, because that Raid really doesn't taste that bad.
~Janette Barber

It would be far easier to lose weight permanently if replacement parts weren't so handy in the refrigerator. ~Hugh Allen

A waist is a terrible thing to mind. ~Tom Wilson

If you have formed the habit of checking on every new diet that comes along, you will find that, mercifully, they all blur together, leaving you with only one definite piece of information: french-fried potatoes are out.
~Jean Kerr

All people are made alike -
of bones and flesh and dinner -
Only the dinners are different
~Gertrude Louise Cheney

My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people. ~Orson Welles

Fat is not a moral problem. It's an oral problem.
~Jane Thomas Noland

Never eat more than you can lift.
~Miss Piggy

If you wish to grow thinner, diminish your dinner.
~H.S. Leigh

Obesity is a mental state, a disease brought on by boredom and disappointment.
~Cyril Connolly, The Unquiet Grave

There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable. ~Mark Twain

Probably nothing in the world arouses more false hopes than the first four hours of a diet. ~Dan Bennett

I bought a talking refrigerator that said "Oink" every time I opened the door. It made me hungry for pork chops.
~Marie Mott

And my personal favorite:

When we lose twenty pounds... we may be losing the twenty best pounds we have! We may be losing the pounds that contain our genius, our humanity, our love and honesty.
~Woody Allen

Monday, April 21, 2008

No Parm, No Fowl

We were not satisfied with the qualities which nature gave to poultry; art stepped in and, under the pretext of improving fowls, has made martyrs of them.”
~Jean-Antheleme Brillat-Savarin

Well, I’ve been honest with you thus far, so I’ll just put it out there and hope that I’m forgiven; Chicken is my least favorite protein.
There, I said it.
That is not to say that I don’t eat it, order it, or prepare it, but if I had my druthers, chicken would be exiled to the “occasional” list of consumables where veal and corned beef happily reside.

For those of you chicken-prophets out there, let me say that I fully appreciate its value as a lean, low-fat protein worthy of its acclaim where diets, live-its, and weight-reduction meal plans are concerned.
The fact is however, I have never succeeded at baking, roasting or broiling a whole chicken—or a least not one resembling those succulent specimens which regularly make their appearance
on the glossy pages of foodie mags.
I find chicken, in its purest, unadulterated form, to be flavorless. The dangers associated with under cooking the bird cause many of us to grill, roast or bake it until it resembles the play-kitchen fare of our Fisher-Price youth—inedibly bland (yet impressively indestructible).
My appreciation for chicken is really limited to what’s in it, on it,
or around it. Who doesn’t love a breaded, fried cutlet or a
Cordon-Bleued bird breast? In fact, if you could find a way to successfully parmigian sweetbreads, I’d probably eat those too
(well, maybe not).

On a good day, I can please a hungry crowd with a quick
Chicken Marsala or Chicken Francaise. Both of these dishes rely on the use of quality chicken paillards, not for their flavor, but for their service as conduits (solely) responsible for delivering savory sauces to eager palates. They are messengers if you will, shot for the sake of delivering information to the taste buds. As a customer service employee, I sympathize with their plight, but that makes them no more appealing to my appetite.
And for that matter, I’d much rather direct my efforts towards saucing up a few (nutritionally superior) vegetables than
pan-handling a few pathetic poultry parts.
But I live with a man (among others) who can’t seem to grasp the concept of vegetables as an entrée. And although I have never read the book, my experience tells me that the fundamental difference between men and women is more about meat and vegetables
than it is about Mars and Venus.

Around our home, chicken often falls into the meat category when beef isn’t on the menu (because, according to the fowl-friendly fellows around here, it sure beats the hell out of a vegetable gratin). And so, I continue to search for easy and delicious (read: moist and flavorful) chicken dishes that don’t require the use of a crock-pot
(my arch nemesis) or Lipitor.

I pay close attention to media food trends, hoping for fresh ideas that might be translated into kitchen-friendly experiments.
Lately, restaurant vogue dictates a drift towards the deconstruction of entrees. Clever chefs take apart perfectly good recipes and serve the complex ingredients on a slender, oblong plate in prison-line-up fashion. The entrée is served in pieces rather than as a whole dish (hence the term deconstructed). While this type of phonetic dining doesn’t really appeal to me, some folks enjoy the (now ubiquitous) interpretation of ingredients.
What I have noticed however, is that chicken dishes are rarely,
if ever deconstructed.
I dare say if they were, no one would actually enjoy the chicken.

As a seasoned home-cook, I know my limitations.
I now regard whole chickens the same way I regard bunk beds;
as evil temptations for gullible shoppers. Most of us will be
fooled into buying them at least once, only to realize that these two items simply cannot be made successfully at home.
(Glossy ads be damned).

And so my quest continues.
Until the Chicken Fairy casts her spell on my Le Creuset, I will continue to disguise fowl fare with more palatable ingredients.
It is with great pleasure that I relinquish the whole bird to loving Jewish grandmothers, who seem to have a genetic penchant
for such an enigmatic entrée.
And unless its parmed or pan-fried, I’ll avoid poultry altogether when dining out.

A bit of motherly wisdom I penned in my daughter’s senior yearbook stated: “Remember, almost anything in life can be improved with a little melted mozzarella.
Where chicken and I are concerned, my theory still holds true today, and I remain steadfast in my resolve:
No parm, no fowl.

And if anyone’s interested,
I have a great set of bunk beds for sale

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


What's the two things they tell you are healthiest to eat?
Chicken and fish. You know what you should do?
Combine them, eat a penguin
. “
~Dave Attell – Comedian

I’m happy to share with you a fool-proof chicken recipe
that actually tastes good.
While I am not a fan of chicken soup (in fact, I like everything about it, except the chicken), this recipe for Chicken-Tortilla Soup is delightful; it's a virtual fiesta for your tastebuds. The chicken has a supporting role while the rest of the ingredients take center stage.
My own version is a multi-cultural hodge-podge of ingredients.
If you prefer to use a store-bought rotisserie chicken
(and why wouldn’t you?), you can skip the steps for marinating and grilling the chicken. Personally, I think the sweet addition of the marinade balances the spicy flavor of the soup.
Do what makes your mouth sing, and make this one your own.
(And in case your wondering; yes, I usually eat the soup and pick out the chicken pieces and toss them into Hubby’s bowl).

The original recipe comes from the Cooking Light website.
While my version is probably not as light, I strongly encourage you to finish the soup with a dollop of sour cream, some diced avocado, shredded Jack cheese, and a sprinkling of sliced olives and chopped scallions. If you want your soup to have more heat, add a finely minced chipotle from a can of chipotle in adobo (see recipe).
***You must fight the urge to substitute the corn tortillas with something else. They are necessary for the soups creamy texture (they will virtually dissolve into the soup) and their flavor component is paramount to this recipe.


For Grilled Chicken:

1.5 lbs. Chicken Tenderloins
4 TBS Good quality Balsamic Vinegar
2 TBS Honey
1 TBS Dijon mustard
½ Cup Canola Oil

Mix last four ingredients together with wire whisk until combined. Place chicken into large Ziploc bag. Pour marinade over chicken. Seal bag securely. Gently shake bag to incorporate. Place bag in bowl or on tray in fridge and marinate for at least two hours (not more than four hours).
Remove from fridge fifteen minutes before grilling.

Heat grill to medium high.
Remove chicken from marinade (discard leftover marinade) and grill for two minutes on each side. Promptly remove from grill to plate and immediately cover with foil. Allow chicken to cool for at least 20 minutes and then slice into chunks. Set aside and follow soup recipe. Add chicken according to recipe.

***Or substitute the grilled chicken with a store-bought rotisserie chicken (shredded or cut into chunks).

For Tortilla Soup:

6 TBS Canola Oil
8 Corn Tortillas, chopped ***(find these in the refrigerated case at your supermarket—usually in the dairy aisle—DO NOT SUBSTITUTE WITH FLOUR TORTILLAS).

6 Garlic cloves, minced
½ Cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 Medium Onion Chopped
1 Can (28 oz.) Diced Tomatoes, undrained
**I prefer the Pomi brand of chopped tomatoes which are sold in a box on the same aisle as the canned tomatoes. I also add one small can of FIRE ROASTED tomatoes from Muir Glen brand—but any brand will do.

2 TBS Ground cumin
1 TBS Chili powder
3 Bay leaves
6 Cups chicken stock
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp. Cayenne pepper
**Optional: for added heat, add one, finely chopped chipotle from a can of chipotle in adobo.

Grilled Chicken, chunked

For Garnish:

Shredded Monterey Jack cheese
Sour Cream
Diced avocado
Tortilla strips

Heat oil in large stock pot over medium heat. Add tortillas, garlic, cilantro, and onion. Saute 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes. Bring to a boil and add cumin, chili powder, bay leaves and chicken stock (and minced chipotle, if using). Return to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Add salt and cayenne. Simmer for 30 minutes. Remove bay leaves. At this point if you prefer a more homogeneous soup, use an immersion blender or food processor to puree some of the soup, before adding the chicken. Add grilled chicken to soup and heat through.
Cover pot and allow it to sit for about 15 minutes.
Serve soup with a dollop of sour cream, diced avocado and garnish with shredded Monterey Jack cheese, chopped scallions, sliced olives and tortilla strips.


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Incorrectly Identifying a Wild Mushroom Can Be Costly

"Nature alone is antique and the oldest art a mushroom."
Thomas Carlyle

With the arrival of each new spring comes the opportunity for me to morph into a woman who actually enjoys spring cleaning.
Such is never the case, but it’s nice to know that the opportunity will present itself again next year.

Instead however, my ambitions are directed toward lighter palettes for home and fashion, and lighter fare for the dinner table.
As is often the case, although my spirit is willing, my checkbook balance is weak, and so I table the plans for redecorating and wardrobe makeover until a time when money-trees might sprout from the earth in my backyard.
A moment of self-pity lasts long enough for me to fashion winter’s jeans into spring’s cropped denims, allowing me time enough to forage for last year’s flip-flops and be on my merry way in search of local, seasonal produce. The very thought of turning orbs and oblongs freshly dug from the earth, into healthy, savory fare brings me back to those rare, but joyful days of my childhood when seed-packet gardening was the next best thing to actually living on a farm.
Our meager square of carefully planted rows in a suburban
backyard garden produced countless squash and beans, and a few small, but no less magical, watermelons.
As I matured, so did my taste for produce and these days I pay careful attention to both heirloom and international varieties, hoping someday to hob-nob with the higher echelon of early birds who catch the coveted organic worm (in the seemingly unattainable form of a local CSA membership). Until I'm bumped from wait-list to official member, I continue to forage for affordable organics at my local supermarkets and await the spring opening of local produce stands.

At present, the promise of a New York spring seems suspect.
As the sun teases us with mid-day cameo appearances, unseasonably cool temperatures follow its departure in hot-pursuit. I fear it will be one of those years when winter turns directly to summer with little consideration for spring’s healthy rains and early blooms. I wait impatiently for jacket-less days and pass the time by daydreaming about tender, fresh vegetables and al-fresco dining.

On a dreary day not so long ago, I spent some time thinking about living room throw pillows and the intricacies of artichokes.
One thought led to another and I decided that I needed to prepare a dish of sautéed baby artichokes with garlic and lemon-- but not until I found the perfect artichoke specimen from which I would fashion a paper model to serve as a pattern for a giant artichoke pillow.
A stuffed artichoke, if you will.
It might not surprise you to discover that much of my home décor is dedicated to food. Recently however, I realized that my living room unfairly idolizes fruit while overlooking the simple elegance of vegetables. My first thought was to create a standard, square throw pillow from lovely vegetable-themed cotton chintz.
But why have a pillow depicting vegetables when you can have a pillow that is a complete vegetable-- stem, choke, and all?

A not-so-short trip to the fabric store yielded enough fabric and fluff for a bigger-than-a-basketball artichoke with a few extras for project number two.
A lovely sales clerk was so impressed by my appreciation for orphaned cuts of fabric unfairly sentenced to clearance-table shame, that she donated large corrugated tubes to serve as center-structure for my soon-to-be, larger than life, standing asparagus (seriously, when a fabric screams out “asparagus” to you, don’t you just have to buy it?).
As I exited the store, negotiating bags of fabric and fluff, awkwardly balancing the tubes under my left arm, I wondered just what I had gotten myself into. My ambition seemed to be writing a Veggie Tale of its own, but I dare suggest this one might be lacking moral values and suitability for an audience of minors.

I spent the better part of a Saturday afternoon dusting off and tuning my trusty Singer Slant Needle 404 sewing machine. The 1958 Singer manual which depicted a Stepford-esque woman wearing gabardine slacks and a flip hairdo, suggested I adjust the tension until the "tension feels right." Surely this woman was a better one than I;
a product of a generation who vacuumed in heels, willingly laundered husband's soiled, cloth handkerchiefs, and apparently, even embraced tension.
Too much to ask of a twenty-first century woman if you ask me,
so I found a stitch length that looked familiar and called it a day.

For the next two weeks, I stole time when I could and traced, cut and stitched artichoke leaves to white cotton batting. When I got to the step requiring insertion of pliable wire into stuffed leaves, all production came to a screeching halt as the wire tangled itself in the batting and made for a leaf completely unfamiliar to any artichoke I have ever met (and I have met more than a few). With each failed solution, I resorted to public polling (never a good idea). One piece of advice however, seemed logical and worthy of my attempt, so I sewed a separate channel into which the wire would be threaded to provide stability and pliability for each leaf. A reasonable solution, albeit one requiring a bit of extra time and patience. Now halfway through my project and totally burnt out, I decided to step away from the sewing table to regroup, re-energize and rehabilitate my cramped right hand, now riddled with pin-pricks from late night sewing, sans eyeglasses.

One night, as I drifted off to sleep, I could hear my left brain telling me there had to be an easier way for one to acquire a giant stuffed artichoke.
My right brain however, always louder and more optimistic, suggested a day off and some retail therapy.
I went with the right brain; often fallible but never dull.

The following morning I awoke early and gathered coupons, shopping lists, dry-cleaner drop-offs and a bag of returns which sat on my dining room chair for weeks in complacent denial of the fact that the boy-sized clothing I purchased for my son needed to be replaced with items from the young men’s department.
I expected that my shopping trip would be a short one
(my first mistake), since my funds were limited and a recent promise to my significantly-stressed other wouldn’t allow for frivolous spending.
I completed the more pedestrian tasks first and then enthusiastically, headed to my favorite haunt, TJ Maxx. As I stood on line with my returns bag in hand, I heard two women talking about the new
Home Goods store across the street. Apparently, it was grand opening week for the store and crowds were flocking to this haven of home décor, for a chance to win prizes and troll for bargains to bedeck their boudoirs. I had in my possession, one Home Goods entry form tucked neatly away in my purse. I took the time to fill it out one Sunday while I perused the weekend paper, never anticipating I would actually drop it into the entry box (as my purse-bottom is so often the burial ground for well-intended coupons, rebates and to-do lists).
Today however, the temptation was too great. I made quick work of my returns and took a quick spin around the gourmet aisles at
TJ Maxx in search of my favorite jam (Maury Island Farm’s Blackberry-Raspberry Jam—to die for) and hubby’s favorite steak sauce (Smith & Wollensky—a tasty little bargain at $3.99 a bottle). Although my search came up empty-handed, I was hopeful that Home Goods (owned by the same geniuses as TJ Maxx and Marshall’s) might allow me to obtain one or both of these delicacies.

With a spring in my step, I exited the store and made the quick trek across the highway to the new store obscurely nestled between a Staples and an auto supply store. Parking presented a small challenge and was my first indication that shopping cart procurement would be reduced to wishful thinking.
As I entered the bustling emporium of home interiors, the scene was almost surreal. Colorfully-clad women pushed shopping carts piled high with all manners of bedding coordinates, Moroccan-esque
nick-nackery, bejeweled lampshades, and plate-ware in every
polka-dotted color scheme imaginable.
It all seemed so Seussical--until I too, got sucked into the vacuum
we so foolishly refer to as retail.

I navigated my way around shopping carts and warehouse-weary toddlers in search of the entry box in which to place my completed form. I made my way to the gourmet department and happily snatched the last bottle of steak sauce from a shelf filled with
dry-rubs and cook-books created with the man-griller in mind.
These are likely the same masterminds behind a twenty-year long campaign against charcoal and in support of monster gas grills and useless grill gadgetry—who now manufacture “retro” versions of the charcoal hibachis of our childhood, promoting what most of us already knew—that its flavor is unmatched—not to mention that a bag of charcoal briquettes is much easier on the wallet and the biceps than its gas counterpart (and let’s not forget the amusement it provided neighborhood pyromaniacs who delighted in that
not-so-fool-proof combination of lighter fluid, newspaper and charcoal).

A friendly sales clerk directed me to the back of the store where a giant, festively wrapped box stood, bulging at the seams, stuffed with what seemed to be thousands of entry forms. I forced my arm through the opening and halfway into the box and wedged my own form between countless others, painfully aware that mine was likely a dull needle left to drown in a haystack of improbability.
I weaved my way between frenzied shoppers and thought it best to make a quick exit and return weeks later when the store would be yesterday’s news and much less crowded.
As I neared the exit, I passed through a department which contained all sorts of folk-art inspired Americana. A primitive, patriotic rooster caught my eye, but its tall, wooden form was ill-balanced, causing passers-by to prop the cock-eyed gent against a giant pewter pig for stability (I’m no farmer but somehow, I just know this is wrong).

As I turned a corner piled high with art-deco boxes, I spied a shelf with a quirky assortment of wall décor including a giant pair of black, wooden scissors. I was amused by their size and realism but my temptation gave way to the fact that I could not rationalize spending so much for utilitarian form with no function (at least when it had nothing at all to do with food).

I had almost made my escape when I spotted an oddly shaped form lying sideways wedged between two broad, low-hung shelves.
I ducked to get a better view and there, before my very eyes was a giant mushroom of handsome heft and honest hue, petitioning me for rescue. I set down the bottle of steak sauce and lifted the mushroom to the light and gasped aloud when I read its price tag. I promptly returned the fungi to its rightful place and headed towards the door. This was a true test of my constitution. In my frivolous past I would have purchased this specimen in a heartbeat.
I paused at a table set with clip-boards to lure credit-worthy shoppers to their financial demise, and as I fished for my keys, I remembered the bottle of steak sauce I left on the shelf above the mushroom. I hurried back to the same location and thankfully, the bottle was still there. A thought occurred to me in a split second of indecisiveness; it isn’t every day that one encounters a giant mushroom for sale. What about “Carpe diem?” Shouldn’t one seize a mushroom opportunity of such proportions, when and if it actually arises?
My right brain encouraged me to buy it, while my left brain reminded me that I had an unfinished artichoke at home and two giant asparagus on deck, and zero funds to justify purchasing a sixty dollar resin mushroom. Besides, my left brain couldn’t even identify the mushroom—and quite honestly, my left brain is pretty good with gastronomical recognition and terminology.
The fact remained however, that although it was no Shiitake, Porcini or Chanterelle, it was a mushroom nonetheless. And who wouldn’t welcome a giant mushroom into their home?
But this time, practicality took over and I sided with my left brain.
I decided to purchase only the steak sauce, yet not until I had one last chance to touch and hold the fabulous fungi. I lifted the mushroom into my arms and ran my hand around its smooth surface. The oddly textured bumps on its cap teased my memory but I became quickly distracted by an attractive, tall woman with silver hair who seemed to be approaching me. She had a Burberry scarf tied loosely around her neck and she had a Coach leather satchel slung over her winter-white cashmered shoulder.
Her eyes quickly darted between me and the mushroom and
as she got closer, I felt ill at ease.
She pointed to the mushroom and politely asked where I found it.
I motioned to the large, empty shelf below me and furtively grasped the bottle of steak sauce from the shelf above it.
And then the sixty-dollar question dropped like a penny from a
high-rise window; “Are you buying it?”
"Well, yes.”
(Now) "I am."

With obvious disapproval, she shuffled her persnickety frown and her crimson suede loafers over to a shelf filled with cloisonné letter openers (a useless gift intended I suppose, for her few (Bridge club) friends who likely had already discovered the conveniences of email while she was out trying to rob seasoned shoppers of their fortuitous fungi).

I made a beeline for the registers, checked out, and with steak sauce and giant mushroom safely installed in my trunk, I headed for home. For the entire ride my right brain negotiated with my left brain suggesting that the acquisition of rare fungus might only enhance the introduction of vegetables into a fruit-dominated domicile. My left brain wasn’t buying it and suggested that my frivolous friend (right brain) and I figure out what we would tell hubby as he tripped over our sixty dollar specimen. Seconds shy of a full-on panic attack, I pulled into my driveway. I took only my returns and the steak sauce from the car and left the mushroom until I could properly introduce it to my husband who I feared wouldn’t be so fungi-friendly.

As I approached my doorstep, I was greeted by my husband to whom I immediately presented the steak sauce followed by
rapid-fire hyperbole and detailed explanation for frivolous spending. I offered that I was in a weakened state of retail competition driven by an appreciation for rare fungus and a genuine dislike for
silver-haired snakes in goat’s clothing.
Apparently, I had him at the steak sauce, and all was forgiven.

After dinner and the evening’s activities, I retrieved my sizable purchase from the trunk. Once I brought the mushroom in however, hubby and I had a small dispute over its location and position. We finally agreed on a location but did not see eye to eye on aesthetics.
I wanted to place the mushroom on its side for the sake of art and quirky-ness. He wanted it upright for the sake of stubborn man-ness.
Upright, it looked like a stupid lamp. That was my elementary argument and after exhausting his litany of left-brain logics for vertical display (and the desire to get back to a televised ball game), he gave in.

For a long while, I stared at the specimen admiring its form as it sat propped on its side next to a long wooden bench in our living room. A feeling that something was missing, gnawed at the back of my brain, but I foolishly chose to ignore it.
I headed to bed with visions of my completed artichoke and asparagus making the acquaintance of our newest addition. As I drifted off to sleep, my subconscious tried to wake me from my mushroom-induced stupor. Again, I sensed a nagging thought attempting to permeate my consciousness but fatigue won out
and it waited impatiently until morning—when, at precisely
five-fifty-two A.M., it rattled me from my slumber to rear its ugly head and declare that I identify what variety, if any, my new mushroom represented.

At first, I thought it didn’t really matter. But when I paused to consider its contribution to conversations of gastronomy, I thought it might be in my best interest to know exactly what variety of mushroom found itself lying prostrate on my living room carpet.
I believe now that my subconscious actually knew the truth all along, but wanted the gratification of seeing my reaction to such a discovery.

Still half-asleep, I poured my first cup of coffee, grabbed my checkbook from the counter and hoisted the mushroom under one arm and headed to my computer desk. No stranger to multi-tasking, I figured I’d do some online bill paying while I googled my fungi. I fished a bunch of receipts from my checkbook pocket and placed them aside. As I waited for my account information to magically appear on the monitor, I was immediately struck by something printed on my Home Goods receipt. To the left of the boldly printed price of $59.99 and just below the line detailing my bargain steak sauce was the word “Garden.”
At that moment, it all became painfully clear. I could almost hear my subconscious laughing. I knew for certain that I had not found my fungi in the garden department of Home Goods. Perhaps it was placed on the only shelf large enough to accommodate its heft—which happened to be with wall décor. But it was in fact, a garden element after all. I stared at its spotted cap with complete disdain. I turned it upside down and finally realized that it was missing the obvious; dark, threadlike gills, a common characteristic of any kitchen-worthy mushroom.
Obviously, this mushroom and I had both become victims of mistaken identity. It was time I faced the cold, hard truth.
I could barely make out the Google icon through the tears welling up in my eyes, but I needed to call upon my eSage of word wisdom, just to be sure.

First, I Googled mushrooms; hundreds of varieties were listed in rich detail accompanied by photos, but none looked enough like mine for me to rationalize its origin. So, I did the unthinkable, I scrolled to the end of the page where the word “toadstool,” appeared and clicked on it, and in an instant, there before my very eyes was a photo of my falsified fungi followed by this definition:

A toadstool is an inedible or poisonous fungus with an umbrella shaped fruiting body, often with no gills appearing underneath its cap.”

Be still my aching heart.
For sixty dollars, I had become the not-so-proud owner of a poisonous, inedible mushroom (which in fact, isn't really even a mushroom after all).
Obviously, there was no way I could expose my vulnerable vegetables to such faux fungi. The very thought of subjecting my tender edibles to such poisonous spores turned my stomach.
The toadstool would have to go back.
I carried it over to the dining room chair (my favorite place to exile returnables) and I taped the receipt to the top of its cap. I was tempted to spit on it but I thought of the innocent plastic gnomes it might someday accompany, so I resisted.
Even I wouldn’t stoop that low.

And so, my dejected toadstool awaits its introduction to greener pastures while I wait hopefully for the motivation to see my
produce project through to its completion. While the artichoke quietly anticipates its assembly and those corrugated tubes stand erect awaiting the fervent embrace of green vinyl, I daydream about constructing a pillowy-soft Shiitake, perhaps of white velour, with carefully stitched gills of chocolate thread.

If nothing else, my fortuitous encounter with faux fungi has sparked a creative flame that hasn’t burned for years.
My husband was pleased at the thought of recovering the funds from my frivolous expense but admittedly, I have mixed feelings about its departure.

Because incorrectly identifying a wild mushroom can be costly,
in more ways than one.

Parting is such sweet sorrow.

Until Next Time,

Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


Some mushroom quotes for you to consider:

Falling in love is like eating mushrooms, you never know if it’s the real thing until it’s too late.”
~Bill Balance

If only one could tell true love from false love as one can tell mushrooms from toadstools.”
~Katherine Mansfield

It's best to buy your mushrooms from a reputable grower or grocer instead of hunting them yourself, as there are many poisonous mushrooms. Incorrectly identifying them can lead to symptoms of sweating, cramps, diarrhea, confusion, convulsions, and potentially result in liver damage, or even death.
~Online resource, author unknown

"I confess, that nothing frightens me more than the appearance of mushrooms on the table, especially in a small provincial town."
~Alexandre Dumas, early 19th century

Life is too short to stuff a mushroom.”
~From Brainy Quotes, author unknown

Thursday, March 27, 2008

You Can't Un-Crack an Egg

“It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.
~ C.S. Lewis

Some of us are chronic worriers by nature.
This is a nasty affliction on its own merits. However, when coupled with a compulsive desire to control everything; the resulting condition is a cross to bear not only for the afflicted, but especially for cohabitants of the affected party.
In this case, I am the chronic-worrier-control-freak and my kids somehow, are managing to grow up, in spite of my condition.

The formal arrival of spring in New York was accompanied by an overnight frost and a pending late-March snowstorm. As I readied my home for an Easter celebration, any expectation for dining
al fresco was squelched by too-cool temperatures and unseasonably high winds. Faced with lamb, a ham, and no particular plan, I set about to prepare a feast for an indefinite number of guests. My daughter’s request to include one or maybe three fellow college freshmen in need of a holiday meal was sprung upon me like an early bloom; a welcome delight notwithstanding the additional attention required.

It was the day before Easter and in my usual frenzy of too much to do in too little time; I contemplated how my eldest and most educated might contribute. While I refused to relinquish control over
ham-glazing, plastic-egg stuffing, cheesecake baking, basil-tearing (never knife-cutting for any true Italian), mozzarella-slicing,
yogurt-mint-processing (for the purpose of lamb-marinating),
or garlic-chopping, I could only force myself to release my grip (temporarily) from the Windex bottle. And so, with blue bottle in hand, she dexterously cleaned the front and back doors and promptly returned to the Guitar Hero competition already in progress in our TV room (where son and husband furtively retreated to escape the wrath of one seemingly peri-menopausal woman expecting company).

Exhausted and overwhelmed, I escaped to my closet hideaway-turned-egg hunt-headquarters to pack plastic eggs full of pastel pleasantries and provisions for children of all ages (including
college man-boys and brooding teenagers). As I sorted Hot Wheels and hot sauces, I thought about the very first egg hunt I hosted almost fifteen years ago. It was a time when my kitchen was a whole lot messier, and holidays were a whole lot easier. It was a time when I welcomed chubby, little fingers to join mine while mixing and shaping meatballs or chocolate chip cookies, with little concern for perfect platter presentation.
If someone had told me then, that years later I would discourage my daughter from cooking her own eggs for fear she would blow up the gas stove or heaven forbid, leave a mess, I would have thought
them insane. But alas, sometimes we fail as parents to execute our own best laid plans.
And so often the worrier in me chose the easier path, the one promising a safer, less eventful arrival than the better path.
Good parents guide and support their children in choosing a path which offers experience; an opportunity to learn and to grow and perhaps even to fail. As I have learned from my own failures,
so too should they.
But all too often I felt compelled to spare them difficulty and disappointment simply by doing it for them.
How foolish of me to consider this a viable method.
While parenting is not rocket science, it challenges the very core of our beings. If we allow fear to take the wheel, our children may never enjoy the scenery along the road less traveled.

As I crammed the last, sample-size bottle of “Ass Kickin’ Hot Sauce” into a snap-tight pastel egg, I considered the sheer irony of the task. You see, it was my daughter who first introduced me to the delightful combination of eggs and hot sauce.
On a steamy, sticky Sunday last summer, at a local bagel shop where we were both employed, I watched in amazement as she doused a perfectly prepared omelet with hot sauce. My amazement came not from her use of the condiment, but from the realization that this daughter of mine, the one I was so reluctant to share my kitchen with, was managing a grill for countless hungry customers, turning out perfectly cooked eggs with nary a twitch of her brow.
Weekend mornings routinely found me clinging to the bagel counter like a cream cheese schmear to a pumpernickel, while she willingly and adroitly manned the grill, juggling orders for scrambles,
over-easies, sunny-sides up, and four-egg he-man specials.
She was a natural at feeding people and unfortunately, I had
little to do with it.

Our Easter celebration turned out to be a great success (with the exception of a too-small dining room and too few chairs, and a
short-lived marital dispute over grill-master husbands who believe that black char is a welcome flavor element on a lamb chop).
But nonetheless, a fun time was had by all.
Thanks to the kindness of relatives headed in the same direction as my daughter’s campus, my eldest and her guest(s) had a free ride back to college in a brand new mini-van. With room to spare, my daughter requested as many leftovers as I was willing to part with
for the sake of hungry, travel-weary undergrads.

A late-night phone call revealed that a second feast was shared in my daughter’s dorm room and for those unable to attend, engrossed in late semester projects, plates were prepared and delivered.
She made sure that the few remaining cannolis were saved for the unfortunate few who had never heard tell of such a delightful indulgence (a fact neither of us could wrap our cannoli-loving
heads around).

And so the fact remains that while we can’t turn back the clock or grant ourselves a “do-over” in this challenging game of parenting,
we lucky few are rewarded by life’s little surprises which so often outweigh the burden of our regrets.
Like daughters who grow up to be beautiful young women
who occasionally do their own laundry, make their own beds
and always invite friends to share a meal.

Because even though you can’t un-crack an egg,
they figure out what to do with it anyway.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


I’m pleased to share with you a fool proof recipe for a delicious cake that is delightfully moist, flavorful, and so easy to prepare.

Since Easter came right on the heels of St. Patrick’s Day, I decided to repeat a favorite dessert—Bailey’s Bundt Cake. The recipe is a modification of one I found on the internet years ago, which called for copious amounts of dark rum. I replaced most of the rum with Bailey’s Irish Cream and added a few of my own ingredients for flavor. You can exchange your favorite liqueur for the Bailey’s and make it your own.

But first, be a good egg and take a moment to read a few quotes about one of nature’s most perfect foods, the egg

I have had, in my time, memorable meals of scrambled eggs with fresh truffles, scrambled eggs with caviar and other glamorous things, but to me, there are few things as magnificent as scrambled eggs, pure and simple, perfectly cooked and perfectly seasoned.
James Beard, 'On Food' (1974)

"Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken."
M.F.K. Fisher (1908-1992)

An egg of one hour old, bread of one day, a goat of one month, wine of six months, flesh of a year, fish of ten years and a wife of twenty years, a friend among a hundred, are the best of all number.”
~John Wodroephe, English commentator
'Spared Hours,' 1623

The world is full of hopeful analogies and handsome, dubious eggs, called possibilities.
George Eliot

Faith is putting all your eggs in God’s basket, then counting your blessings before they hatch.
~Ramona C. Carroll

When you feel neglected, think of the female salmon, who lays 3,000,000 eggs but no one remembers her on Mother’s Day.
~Sam Ewing

I do not like green eggs and ham I do not like them Sam I am.
~Dr. Seuss

It serves me right for putting all my eggs in one bastard.
~Dorothy Parker

The difference between 'involvement' and 'commitment' is like an eggs-and-ham breakfast: the chicken was 'involved' - the pig was 'committed'
~Author Unknown


** I suppose you could use any cake pan with good results, but I strongly recommend you dig out your favorite bundt pan and be sure to grease and flour it well. The shape of a bundt cake lends itself well to the decadent glaze topping.

1 Cup chopped toasted nuts (I used a combination of pecans and almonds)
1 Box (approx. 18.5 oz) White Cake Mix
2 Boxes (3/4 oz. ea) Instant Vanilla Pudding
4 to 5 eggs (I prefer to use 5 large eggs. If yours are extra large, use only 4)
1/2 Cup plus 2 TBS. Cold Milk
1/2 Cup plus 1 TBS. Vegetable Oil (I prefer Canola oil)
1/2 Cup Bailey's Irish Cream Liqueur
2 TBS Dark rum
1 Cup Toffee Chips (Skor toffee bits or Heath toffee bits *NOT chocolate-coated toffee bits)


1 Stick Butter
1/4 Cup Water
1 Cup Sugar
1/2 Cup Bailey's Irish Cream
2 TBS. Dark Rum

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Grease and flour a 12-cup Bundt pan. Sprinkle toasted nuts on bottom of pan. Combine all cake ingredients (except toffee bits). Beat for two minutes on high with electric mixer. Add toffee bits to batter, incorporate by hand with spatula or wooden spoon.
Pour into prepared pan. Bake for one hour. Cool in pan on wire rack. Invert cake onto serving plate when cool. Prick top of cake with toothpick or fork. Drizzle glaze (recipe follows) over top of cake. Use pastry brush to re-glaze drippings over cake. ** I add extra glaze once the first layer of glaze has dried. This step is optional.

Melt butter in saucepan. Stir in water and sugar. Boil for five minutes over medium-high heat STIRRING CONSTANTLY to avoid burning. Remove from heat and CAREFULLY add rum and Bailey's (it will steam and sputter). Mix well and glaze cake as recipe suggests. Extra glaze can be stored in glass container, covered.


Monday, March 17, 2008

You Say Tomato, I Say Connecticut

“Home grown tomatoes, home grown tomatoes
What would life be like without homegrown tomatoes
Only two things that money can't buy
That's true love and home grown tomatoes.”

~John Denver, 'Home Grown Tomatoes'
(from a song written by Guy Clark)

If you are fortunate to share dialogue with my mother and you happen to mention the word microwave, she will abruptly and momentarily stray off-topic to inform you that said microwave
does in fact “cook from the inside out.”
This is likely a factoid she picked up in the late ‘70s, committed to memory, and now spontaneously recalls, as she suffers from an involuntary stimulus-response condition I like to call ‘momism.’

For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed hearing, deconstructing and mocking these mom-isms.
One would think I repeat them for the sheer sake of folly at Mother’s unfortunate expense. But the fact of the matter is, while I listen and laugh, I also learn.

Over time I have come to realize that certain trigger-words encourage these colorful, if not always logical descriptions.
Where most of us depend on basic adjectives, my mother adds a bit more flavor to the pot. Old becomes “As old as Methuzula.”
More than will become “More than you can shake a stick at” or
(my personal favorite), “More than Carter has little liver pills.”

While I have never met Methuzula (but I would imagine she is still alive), my stick-shaking days were over before they started, and Carter sounds like a good candidate for rehab, I cannot deny my appreciation for my mother’s involuntary response to any discussion about the tomato

Years ago, for my mother’s birthday, I purchased a Wusthof
tomato knife. As I presented her with the gift, I expected and hoped she would re-tell the story of her summertime youth spent visiting relatives in Waterbury, Connecticut.
She was both pleased and panicked by my gift. While she appreciated the form and function of the knife, she feared the backlash of inherited Italian superstition which dictates that the recipient of any sharp, pointed object must immediately compensate the donor with a penny to ward off any opportunity for malfeasance or conflict.
Impatiently, I yielded to a momentary delay as she rifled through her purse in search of a penny for the sake of peace. I knew better than to deny superstitious reciprocity, and so I pocketed the penny as her tomato story unfolded…

She, an only child, traveled with parents and elders from
Brooklyn to Waterbury during the dog days of summer.
The seemingly endless trip met with steep, hilly roads before
finally approaching the old storied house with the coveted
front-porch entry. Upon arrival, barely able to contain her excitement, she bounded barefoot into the backyard and made a beeline for the garden where her eager palms would be baptized with the sweet, pulpy nectar of homegrown tomatoes. Heat-fatigued and ravenous, there was little time or energy for ceremonious slicing or sandwiching. She plucked and ate the scarlet orbs as if they were apples, one after another, allowing their green caps to fall
back to the earth.
Sun-kissed and satiated, she retreated indoors to absorb the annual enchantments of her visit; doting relatives, a prized piano that mysteriously played itself, a sleepy sun room, and cool breezes invited by a favorite front-porch swing.
Those were good times.

I never grow tired of hearing that story. The older and wiser I get however, I realize that like any good story, this one evolves over time. With each re-telling, the trip gets longer, the hills get steeper and the summer gets hotter. But nevertheless, the tomato experience remains the same, and each time I am left with a nagging thought;
I want that tomato.

My own personal experience with fresh tomatoes is bland, at best.
I seem to have a knack for choosing the most flavorless,
mealy-fleshed specimens at the market.
Where gardening is concerned, I have been shamefully remiss in cultivating and caring for such prolific perennials. I guess that
leaves me at the mercy of commercial growers who harvest green, under-ripe tomatoes (for the sake of shelf-stability and transport), which then undergo a chemically-induced coloring to attract unsuspecting shoppers.
While those of us vulnerable to commercialism (and too lazy
to kick up a fuss) see red and reach for tasteless tomatoes,
those well-informed, proactive consumers see red, and magnanimously call for change.

The fact is a good tomato, like a good story, should be allowed to ripen naturally. Most would agree that the best tomatoes are indeed homegrown.
Some would argue that only heirloom varieties come close to those prized tomatoes of yesteryear.
And likewise, where mom-isms are concerned, their intrinsic value is rooted in a lifetime of noteworthy events and ideas whose constant recollection and usage become a natural part of ones permanent landscape.
A dialogue shared with my mother free of mom-isms, would offer the same experience as sharing an under-ripe, chemically modified tomato; flavorless and forgettable.

And so, as I browse seed catalogs and await the arrival of summer’s bounty in search of sandwich-worthy specimens, I will be mindful of that Connecticut tomato and how lucky I am to have shared a colorful memory, ripe with hyperbole and flavor.

I don’t expect I will soon forget the collection of family stories
I have been privy to over the years. My mother has more of them than you can shake a stick at and I’ll bet you a dollar-to-a-donut that there are still more untold. I expect that I will share my own stories, as well as hers, with my own children until I am
as old as Methuzula or until I’ve forgotten.
And perhaps on a day when it’s raining to beat the band, I will cozy up with a hot mug of something from the microwave (which incidentally, cooks from the inside out) and write them down
so they might live on long after I’m gone.

Because what would life be like without true love and
homegrown tomatoes?

Two things money can’t buy, that only get sweeter with time.

Until Next Time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


A few noteworthy tomato quotes:

It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.”
~Lewis Grizzard

Sonny, true love is the greatest thing, in the world—except for a nice MLT—mutton, lettuce and tomato sandwich, where the mutton is lean and the tomato is ripe.”
~William Goldman

A number of rare or newly experienced foods have been claimed to be aphrodisiacs. At one time this quality was even ascribed to the tomato. Reflect on that when you are next preparing the family salad.”
~Jane Grigson

High-tech tomatoes. Mysterious milk. Supersquash. Are we supposed to eat this stuff? Or is it going to eat us?”
~Annita Manning

And by the way,
Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite mom-isms:

While we Irish folk (on my father’s side) were content with
Erin Go Bragh” to express our appreciation for
‘Ireland the Beautiful,’ my mother and grandmother were more comfortable (literally and figuratively speaking) with this one:

Erin Go Bra-less

I heard it once a year for at least twenty years and I don’t doubt it passed her lips at least once today.

Monday, March 10, 2008


No greater thing is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.”
~From The Works of the Greek philosopher Epictetus

The fig is a man-whore.
Well, not all figs, actually. There are some figs (like some men), capable of productive, fruitful relationships.
The ‘Caprifig’ however, is not one of them. Its claim to fame is that it is the only type of fig to have flowers which possess male parts and therefore produce pollen. This pollen is critical to the fertilization of more than one type of fig. Caprifigs are often described as “small, hard, inedible and unappealing” (no big surprise there).
Commercial growers purchase Caprifigs and the orchard-worthy specimens are pimped out to pollinate other types of figs.
So basically, the Caprifig lives for sex.
The whole process is referred to as ‘caprification’ and depends exclusively on a ‘fig-wasp’ which inhabits the Caprifig, and is responsible for transferring pollen and laying eggs.

There are other, more common varieties of figs like the Mission fig, which develop without pollination. Introduced to California by Franciscan missionaries, these are popular with home growers and consumers for their dependability and flavor.
None however, can match the flavor or girth of the coveted Smyrna fig, said to have larger, more flavorful seeds as a direct result of pollination (apparently, the rewards are even greater for a ficus completely dependent on Capri’s man-fig, living the life of a
sex addict making frequent, if not meaningful, fruity-calls

Allow me to free myself from the accusal of man-bashing.
Quite honestly, I can think of a married woman or two
who flirtatiously express interest in peeking under someone else’s
fig leaf, when they need not look beyond their own backyard for a perfectly good Ficus.
But as is often the case, nature presents us with what seems to be a cruel injustice. “Wham, bam, thank you M’am” is as much of a reality to the plant kingdom as it is to the animal kingdom.
It is what it is.

The fact remains however, for all its flaws and infidelities, I love the fig nonetheless. I can’t think of a more succulent, satisfying orb worthy of prosciutto’s salty embrace. And although fresh is first choice, there are few fruits to compete with the nutrition, portability and flavor of a dried fig.

My relationship with figs is not a complicated one.
Where propagation is concerned, at first I didn’t succeed
and so, I never tried again.
When my significant-other planted our first and only fig tree, we knew not of caprification or the need for a fig wasp and so,
our poor little tree likely met its demise well before it was
burlapped for the winter.

I suppose it was a blessing of sorts because years later, I heard tell of an elderly relative who, with little time left, waited for her promising backyard-harvest to ripen. To her delight, an early sunrise revealed a fig tree bursting with ripened fruit. By midday however, backyard birds had rendered her beloved ficus devoid of even one single, edible fruit.

Fellow fig-lovers have reported that occasionally, even when all criteria are met (good drainage, plenty of sunlight, protection from the elements), their once-abundant fig trees will mysteriously remain fruitless for a season or two and then begin bearing fruit years later, as though production had never halted.

These seemingly cruel acts of nature have been experienced countless times by fig fans across the globe, and one would wonder if there is a greater lesson to be learned here.

As I pause to consider the significance of such a fickle fruit, I am drawn to writers and philosophers of the (recent and not-so-recent) past, who so eloquently made reference to the fig.
As art so often reflects life, it is evident that the fig metaphorically describes life’s fleeting opportunities for love.
Where the fig-grower is concerned, care and cultivation are secondary only to good timing.
Where romance is concerned, be it new romance or old, I would suggest that care, cultivation, and good timing hold equal billing in a successful relationship.
If we fail to recognize life’s abundance, leaving the fruits of our labor vulnerable to waiting wings, we may find ourselves faced with insatiable hunger beside a fruitless tree.

Perhaps Sylvia Plath said it best:

I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn't quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn't make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
~Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar, Chapter 7

And although no fig tree stands in my yard these days, my desire
to procure such a delicate, complex fruit is unwavering.
I remain mindful however that the temptation of Smyrna’s succulence and heft will be short lived. As I await the unpredictability of fresh-fig season, I recognize the value and dependability of the more humble, common, dried fig.
Where fresh, young figs offer spontaneity and excitement, it is the more mature, dried variety which offers consistent flavor, unconditional reliability and longevity.

But alas, do not mistake the fig for a fool.
While the commoner patiently lurks behind darkened cupboards
and pantry doors awaiting the opportunity to satisfy,
the foolish sins of neglect are often repaid with spoiled sweetness.

And so, in matters of figs and life it is essential that we acknowledge and celebrate what lies beneath the leaf.
Should we fail to nurture our own fruitful harvest in a timely fashion, we risk a quick descent by waiting wings to make light work
of stolen figs.


And, speaking of stolen figs…
I leave you with a recommendation for a great book and my
most recent read:
Stolen Figs by Mark Rotella.
For those, like me, who pine for Italy and fresh figs with equal measure, this book offers a charming account of Calabria and its people (with a short chapter suggesting a not-so-legal method of procuring figs).

I am also happy to share with you some interesting fig facts
and a favorite fig recipe below.
But perhaps most appropriately, I will make my exit with a
borrowed mom-ism from my mother and friend who taught me
first, to appreciate what stands in my own backyard and
secondly, to appreciate a good play on words (no matter how corny);

I’ve gotta run.

I have a date
With a fig
On Prune Street.

Until next time,
Make Life Delicious
Share Your Food


In case you give a fig:

Of the three members of the Moraceae family, the fig has spread most widely. It was first recorded in the tablets of Lagash in Sumer (2738-2371) BC and has since appeared in the recorded history from Egypt to Greece, where it was a staple food of both rich and poor. The fig was such a staple food that Egyptian armies are recorded as having cut down the figs and vines of their enemies, and whole baskets of figs have been discovered among the tomb offerings of dynastic kings.

The Egyptians, being preoccupied with their digestion, had a habit of fasting. The fig, having mild laxative properties, appealed to them as food which was delicious as well as good for them. Figs are rich in calcium, iron, phosphorus and potassium. Vitamin C and the B group vitamins are also present in small quantities. They are also high in fibre. Figs have the highest overall mineral content of all common fruits. A 40 gram (1/4 cup) serving provides 244 mg of potassium (7% of the DV), 53 mg of calcium (6% of the DV) and 1.2 mg of iron (6% of the DV). Figs are fat-free, sodium-free and cholesterol-free.

Homer wrote of figs when he described the orchard of Alcinous, visited by Ulysses, which featured figs, olives, pomegranates, apples and pears. The poet Alexis of Thuria in the 4th century celebrated the fare of the average Greek which included "that God-given inheritance of our mother country, darling of my heart, a dried fig."

Cleopatra ended her life with an asp brought to her in a basket of figs.

The fig’s importance in Hellenic culture and economic life is second only that that of the grape and the olive.

In the first half of the sixteenth century, the fig was brought to England by Cardinal Pole, a few years before Cortez introduced the tree to Mexico. Fig trees reached North America in about 1790.
~From The Sensuous Fig by Margaret E.Walker

For centuries, writers have made reference to the fig, noting its connection to fertility.
In Greek and Roman mythology, figs are sometimes associated with Dionysus, god of wine and drunkenness, and with Priapus, a satyr who symbolized sexual desire.


Caramelized Figs with Mascarpone Cheese
Fichi Caramellati al Mascarpone
From Kyle Phillips

Late summer is the season for rich, ripe honey-sweet figs, and though you may be tempted to eat them directly off the tree, this is a pleasant, quick way to serve them up when friends come calling. To serve 4:

• 8 perfect, perfectly ripe figs
• 8 tablespoons cane sugar
• 2/3 pound (300 g) Mascarpone cheese
• 1/2 cup (50 g) powdered sugar
• 8 tablespoons vinsanto or passito wine -- both are sweet dessert wines

Select 8 ripe, blemish-free figs. Wash them, pat them dry, and make two perpendicular cuts half way into each fig from the stem end, as if you were going to quarter them. Put them on a cookie sheet covered with oiled paper.

Sprinkle a teaspoon of cane sugar over each fig and run them under a broiler for 2-3 minutes, to lightly caramelize the sugar.
Arrange the figs on 4 plates, and continue the cuts almost all the way down to the base, so the figs open like so many flowers.

Beat 2/3 pound (300 g) mascarpone cheese (a soft, mild-flavored cream cheese will work in its stead if need be) with about 1/2 cup (50 g) powdered sugar and 8 tablespoons vinsanto or passito (both are sweet, white dessert wines). Divvy the cheese among the figs and serve.