True statement: I will follow the Sedaris siblings (ok, at least David and Amy) anywhere they lead me. David decides to stop using human characters and to form his tales as animal fables? I mean, I’ll miss the family dirt, but I’m game. Dude could write the alphabet and I’d read it cover to cover. His sister, Amy, decides to shed her fat suit (you’ve seen “Strangers with Candy,” right? RIGHT?) and transform into the hostess with the mostess? Then I guess it’s time to throw a party. There are few people I think could actually take Martha Stewart down, and Amy Sedaris is one of them. And yes, I’d pay to see that fight.
Apparently I am a bit of a cooking disaster waiting to happen. At least I am according to the experts interviewed by Real Simple.
The January issue has a story called How to Fix Dinner: 17 all-too-common cooking mistakes (plus easy tips to avoid them). I do (or have done) about half of these tips regularly — mostly without any ill effect.
Take number two: using the wrong knife. Been there, done that, do that all the time. I don’t even know which knife in my fairly nice Cutco knife set (Rachel spent a brief foray one summer in this selling cult so we of course now have many Cutco knives purchased before she quit) is supposed to do what. It’s a complete mystery so I just grab the one closest at hand and hack away. Mostly that method works just fine. The Real Simple story, however, suggests that this approach will “damage your food.” If I used the correct knife, I would be more efficient and my dicing would be neater.
I really miss my mother. And I’m surprised. She’s been dead, after all, for 11 years, and our relationship was a complicated one for sure. So I’ve been touching this rediscovered scab, thinking about how it feel when I scratch certain parts, and I think I’ve figured out where it’s coming from: This is the first Christmas where Peter and I will not see two of our three children. At all. And for the first time, I understand and feel in my very core my mother. I get why she was so (often annoyingly to me) needy at different points — “What do you mean you’re not going to spend Mother’s Day with me, Janet?” — and why she seemed so desperate at others. She saw the clock ticking and like that Salvador Dali clock knew her time was melting, ever so quickly.
Janet here: So yesterday was the Big Day. It was time for my close-up at CBS studios to see whether I can make it on to Mo Rocca‘s new food show on the cooking channel called My Grandma’s Ravioli. (Yes, that would be the Mo Rocca of The Daily Show fame and NPR’s Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.)
It all started when my friend Michael sent me an email that started “Don’t bop me in the nose but….” and then said, “but you are a grandmother and this is Mo Rocca.” Then he included a link to an open casting for grandmothers and grandfathers who are great cooks to come on Mo’s new show and teach him how to cook one of their favorite recipes. I thought about entering for about 2.5 seconds and then wrote Michael and said, “Are you kidding? I LOVE Mo Rocca!” We then exchanged a few emails about how he wants to marry Mo and I promised I would invite him to the taping if I get on etc. If that happens, trust me you will hear about it here.
Anyway, I found a photo, answered their questions (What is your favorite recipe? What recipe would you make for the show? Where did you learn to cook?), hit send and waited. Last week, they called me and asked me to come in for a camera interview.
I’m not gonna lie. I was jumping up and down. And then I freaked out and wondered how I could lose ten pounds in four days, prompting some conversations with Rachel about the possible benefits of investing in some Spanx.
I decided to go au naturel — and based on three of the competitors I saw in the waiting room, it was a good call. Let’s just say, I was looking good.
The interview began with an assistant who is probably the age of at least two of my kids taking a few photos of me holding my questionnaire — I was number 36. Now those who know and love me know I HATE getting my photo taken. The reason is simple: the photos are rarely any good. In fact, if I didn’t have decent self-esteem, I would get depressed over said photos. But I had figured this might be part of the deal and so this morning I actually practiced smiling in front of the mirror. I’m not sure the results were any different — they didn’t show me the photos — but I at least felt as if I looked more normal.
But we weren’t here for still photos. We were here for the camera interview. I went into the small office and met two other 20-somethings and sat down on the couch. A few more photos later, including one of each side of my head (obviously looking for my good side ), and we were ready to roll.
One woman took the lead and started asking questions. What family memories do you have about cooking? Who taught you to cook? What’s your favorite kind of cooking? Have you had any cooking disasters? What kind of cooking have you not mastered? What are your favorite cookbooks? Why do you want to be on this show? What do you like to do in your free time when you’re not cooking?
The time flew by and I had them laughing for a lot of it (at least the two women laughed; the guy was a little harder to read and more aloof.) I left thinking it had gone pretty well.
Time will tell. I know enough to know that this might not be about me at all. They might already have a white woman with a touch of snark in their mix.
I should hear around Labor Day if I’m still in the running, with the taping to happen (in our kitchen!) later in September. Just enough time for me to lose those ten pounds … or get me some Spanx
Janet here: My dad was famous for his baked beans. Okay, maybe famous is a touch of an exaggeration but he was famous in our family. Anyway he baked them in some kind of large brown crockpot contraption that I’m not even sure exists anymore. They took hours of slow cooking and they were to-die-for delicious. Just the right mix of brown sugary/molasses wonderfulness tinged with a little bit of mustard and with pieces of some kind of fat — pork? — floating in there for flavor. I absolutely loved them.
I also loved eating cold baked beans in a sandwich. Yup, in between two pieces of white bread no less. The first time I saw my dad make up this concoction, I blanched and said, “Yuck.” But then he said, “Try it, Jake.” (His nickname for me.) So I did and I was blown away. It was that good.
Sadly, my father’s recipe for baked beans died with him and I have been searching out the recipe ever since. This recipe marks my latest attempt. My inspiration comes from a recipe in the current issue of the Food Network Magazine and it’s tasty. But it’s not my dad’s, and so the quest continues.
5 slices thick-cut bacon, diced. I use turkey bacon.
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon minced peeled ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 15-ounce can whole tomatoes, crushed
3 tablespoons molasses
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon mustard powder
salt and pepper to taste
2 15-ounce cans pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce can navy beans, undrained
2 hamburger buns or 2 slices of bread, torn into pieces
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Cook about 2/3 of the bacon in a large skillet over medium heat until crisp, about 10 minutes. Transfer the bacon to a bowl, leaving behind the drippings. Add the onion to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and gold, about 8 minutes. Add the ginger, garlic and chili powder and cook, stirring about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and the molasses, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, mustard powder, some salt and pepper. Increase the heat to medium high, bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Add the pinto beans, then the navy beans and their liquid. Return to a simmer. Stir in the bacon. Transfer it all to a 2-quart baking dish.
Pulse the buns with the remaining uncooked bacon in a food processor until finely ground. Strew the crumbs over the bean mixture. Cover and bake 45 minutes. Then uncover and bake until the crumbs are golden brown, about 20 more minutes.
Rachel and I are going to share a post today, a little celebration/tip-off to our respective dads as we enter the weekend that honors fathers. I’ll kick it off.
If you added up the number of meals served in my house growing up, my mother certainly made most of them. But it is my father who most influenced my taste buds. My dad was a large man for most of his life. He was tall and big chested and he was also always at least somewhat over the ideal weight. The reason for that was simple: He loved to eat. And he loved to eat well.
This is a man who lived the Mad Men life of two-martini lunches at swank restaurants in New York, followed by card games in the bar car on the way home from New York to New Jersey, followed by a substantive dinner. On weekends, he loved nothing better than piling the whole family in the car and driving somewhere — one of his and my mother’s favorite restaurants was at least an hour’s drive from our home — for a full-on meal, complete with appetizers and dessert. It was during these regular forays that I learned how to sit still at the dinner table, which fork to use and the wonders of parfaits (a dessert I also loved because I felt quite smart being able to spell it).
On weekends when we didn’t eat out, my dad loved nothing better than cooking steak sandwiches on the grill, often with fresh vegetables from our garden. And at the holidays, he was the creator of many of our most special dishes. (His pies, as regular readers know, were out of this world.)
When my father became diabetic later in life (no surprise there, given his eating patterns and his family history), he still ate well, just differently. Okay, so he couldn’t eat the same kinds of desserts. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t have dessert; it just meant more fresh fruit and less sweetener.
My father, who died four days after my 32nd birthday and three days before Rachel’s third birthday, stands at my side now as I cook and as I eat. He reminds me, a woman who has struggled with loving her body and nurturing/nourishing it, to enjoy the food, savor the moment. My dad was a no-nonsense kind of guy, a man who grew up in an era when hugs were forms of intimacy left only for rare moments. But in his gusto for food — the sharing of it, the joy of eating it, the cooking of it for people he cared about — he showered me with love day in and day out.
I planned out what I was going to write today in my head over the past day or so without any knowledge of what my mom was going to write. There are interesting parallels, I think, between the lessons she learned about food from her father and the lessons I learned from mine. Perhaps we observed them more because they weren’t usually the ones standing at the stove…
My dad is a measured man. An avid runner, he–like me–appreciates routine. Growing up, I watched him eat a bowl of cereal every morning for breakfast (ok, as a teenager I noticed the bowl upside down in the dishwasher…), washed down with a glass of juice. For lunch during the week he’d pack himself a half of a sandwich and two pieces of fruit each day (on weekends he dutifully consumed the leftovers in the fridge). Home from work, he’d pop open a can of peanuts and enjoy a few nibbles before sitting down and vocally enjoying the entirety of whatever meal my mom had prepared.
Here is what I learned:
I learned about moderation. I learned to invest in the good stuff so the indulgent food would not only taste luxurious but feel good, too. I learned about food as fuel, as stamina for the bodily machine. I learned about portions and balance. Without ever talking about it, my dad showed me how to eat. It is a model I have turned to often when I feel lost in the vast sphere of food. Make half a sandwich, grab two pieces of fruit. Your body will thank you.
There is something else, though, that I learned from my dad as I witnessed his eating patterns growing up. A blue and white speckled bowl held court in the middle of our kitchen table, brimming with fruit. My dad never picked the prettiest pieces out, though. Instead, he’d reach into the bottom and pull out the leopard-spotted banana or bruised apple–even a peach that was starting to mold in a spot–to eat. I always avoided those fruits, figuring a speck of rot was the same as a pile of mush, favoring the unmarred fruit and letting its mottled counterparts continue their deterioration. While there’s the sort of obvious lesson to eat the food that’s turning before you consume that which remains hearty, there is an undercurrent to this little tableau that courses through my dad’s character.
My dad is a man for the underdog, a shirker of the easy answer and a celebrator of the enigmatic and idiosyncratic. I asked him once about why he chose the fruit that was turning and he said that it tasted so, so sweet. From where he stood there was nothing wrong at all and, instead, he set his eyes and pallet on the marvelous and deep flavors that come from truly ripe fruit. While seeking and sustaining routine, he keeps his eyes open. From the middle of the road, he takes in the periphery, marveling at its unruliness and appreciating the balance of it all. He sees spectacular fungus formations on trees deep off the trail when we hike. He notices M’s tiniest flickers of observation as they flash across her face. And when the day is done, he sits down and appreciates this momentary arrival, enjoying his good dinner and the occasional ice cream cone, too.
If you had/have a dad, what did/do you learn from him about food? What are your favorite food memories?
Janet here: I’ve been missing my dad — Pop Pop to you, Rachel — recently and I’m not sure why. He’s been dead for nearly 25 years, almost as much time as we got to spend together. Maybe it’s because we just filled a two-ton dumpster with all kind of junk from over the years and some of the treasures among the trash were photos of him and my mother. I also found a love letter he wrote to my mother just a few weeks after their honeymoon had ended. I was blown away by the declarations and open romanticism; this was not the dad I remembered!
Anyway my dad was a rhubarb fan and I can remember him cooking up some rhubarb on the stove in the spring. He’d add sugar and we’d have it for breakfast as a kind of fruity stew.
I decided I’d make something with rhubarb in his honor. There was just one problem: I had never ever cooked rhubarb. I also knew I didn’t just want to stew it. So I did a little trolling on the web and came up with this rhubarb cheesecake, a combination of a few different ideas.
I think my dad would have been pleased. I hope you all are as well.
Rhubarb Cheesecake Pie
about 12 Oreos ground up
1/4 cup melted butter
3 cups rhubarb, cut up into 1/2 inch pieces
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoon flour
cream cheese layer
12 ounce cream cheese softened
1/2 cup sugar
8 ounces sour cream
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Grind the Oreos in a cuisinart. Melt the butter. Then combine and pat into a 10-inch pie plate.
Combine the rhubarb, 1/2 cup sugar and flour. Place into the Oreo pie crust. Bake for 15 minutes.
While it’s baking,prepare the cream cheese filling by beating the cream cheese and sugar until fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Then pour over the hot rhubarb mixture, lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake for 25-30 minutes until it’s almost set. While it’s baking, combine the topping ingredients together.
Take the pie out of the oven and spread the last topping over the hot layer. Let it sit for a while and chill in the fridge for at least an hour before serving.
Inspired by Momalom, which ran a post last week in which the author wrote for 10 minutes without editing starting with the phrase I Remember, we decided to do our own We Remember post about food. We hope you’ll chime in with a food memory or just do this exercise on your own. We think you’ll be surprised/intrigued by what comes up.
I remember the first time I breast fed and being so awestruck by the fact that I was literally able to provide life for this little tiny baby from my very own body.
I remember sitting at the kitchen table, ice cold fish on my plate, long after everyone else in my family had left the table because I had to finish what was on my plate and I didn’t like it. I learned an important lesson: fish does not get better as it gets colder.
I remember deciding then and there that I would not make my children clean their plates and that I would only ask them to try one bite of something rather than forcing them to eat it all.
I remember eating dinners out on our family porch and my dad cooking steak on the grill for delicious steak sandwiches and corn on the cob with oodles of butter.
I remember my dad making pies at Thanksgiving and having apple and pumpkin pie for breakfast until they were all gone.
I remember eating dinner with my sister and mother in high school, my nose in a book because I was so angry at my mother for drinking. If I was reading, I didn’t have to talk to her and I could pretend she wasn’t drunk.
I remember taking one look at the tomato aspic my mother had put on the table, nodding at my sister and the two of us just saying we were going to go to bed without supper because there was no way we were going to eat that. We headed upstairs, the summer day still filled with promise, and found some rock hard Jujubes in a drawer. That was dinner and it was totally worth it.
I remember discovering onion dip the morning after a cocktail party my parents gave and sticking my finger in it for breakfast. It seemed so exotic. I also remember my surprise years later to discover it was just dried soup mix and sour cream.
I remember feeding my dog, Sunshine, the brussel sprouts we had at Thanksgiving every year for 15 years running. I carefully pulled them off my plate one by one when no one was looking and dropped them into her mouth.
I remember complete and total happiness sitting at the table with Peter and our three children around us. It all just felt right and full.
I remember making ice cream pies for our children’s birthdays.
I remember hating myself for eating breakfast/lunch/dinner — fill in the blank — if I had gained a pound in my daily weigh-in.
I remember the humongous chocolate chip cookie Rachel made with the babysitter the time Peter and I went away overnight.
I remember the thrill of dumping my Halloween pillowcase onto the floor and rifling through the candy. I remember my mother grabbing all the Hershey bars with almonds because they were a favorite. I didn’t mind.
I remember deciding to stop eating red meat and being so surprised it was as easy as it was.
I remember the babysitter trying to make me eat cold rice with cinnamon and mushrooms and telling my mother about it when she came home from work. She fired Mrs. Crawford the next day, but the damage was done. I couldn’t eat rice for a decade and I still hate mushrooms.
I remember being told children were starving in India and that’s why I had to finish what was on my plate.
I remember the candy drawer my mother had in our kitchen and always being excited to see what she had bought on grocery shopping day.
I remember dewy grass on bare legs, picking blueberries in the old cabin by the lake in the early morning. I remember blueberry pancakes, brimming with berries in spite of how many we’d stuffed in our mouths while picking
I remember birthday ice cream cakes and the year my brothers ate mine before I got so much as a bite.
I remember Dad coming home with bags full of goodies for road trips. I remember feeling extra special when they were for my birthday trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame and sitting in the backseat with Jen, free to eat as much as our little 5th-grade hearts desired.
I remember sushi lunches with Dad after trips to the museum in high school. I remember feeling adventurous and sophisticated and special for having this shared food love in common.
I remember the first time I baked Mjurk Pepparkakor, teary-eyed at growing up and the continuity between my mom’s kitchen and mine, clear across the country.
I remember afternoons at Jessica’s eating cookies. Lots and lots of cookies, talking until the sun set and homework called. And I remember hours spent over cups of coffee, discussing religion and boys and dreams.
I remember grilled sausage and vegetables, wine in red cups and a glorious cake that afternoon in the park a few years back when John and I got married and all of our friends came together for a meal.
I remember baking muffins and not eating them.
I remember lunch at my grandparents’ house, feeling that everything was just right and a little bit fancy.
I remember afternoons by the lake, a sand-encrusted cooler storing lemonades and potato chips for G and me from our Grandy. All summer was filled with these excursions and for each one she prepared us a treat.
I remember no one believing that I didn’t like broccoli growing up. I feel satisfied when I remember this now, now that everyone believes me.
I remember when John and I talked over dinner, drinking wine and listening to music instead of haunting the table together like we do so many nights now, bleary-eyed and with little to report other than what M has eaten and said and done.
I remember when M was born and Nancy came. Three meals a day just appeared before us, homemade and sustaining and delicious. I remember feeling intense love in that food; I remember feeling seen.
I remember when M was born and our friends here stopped by, bringing food and congratulations and leaving us with one less thing to figure out.
I remember when M was born, nurses poking and prodding and hassling me about how nursing was going. I remember trying to shield her from them, recognizing that she knew everything she needed to know and, simultaneously, that I did, too.
Janet here: I went grocery shopping yesterday and had a little epiphany: I’m schizophrenic. On the one hand, I buy organic veggies and fruits and organic, or at least antibiotic-free, chicken and cage-free/antibiotic-free eggs. And then I buy pound bags of peanut M&Ms, double stuffed Oreos and Doritos. Or some combination of the above.
What is up with that?
I blame my kids. (Hey, they blame me or their father for most of their “issues.” Now it’s my turn.) The treats, aka “bad” foods”, are for them. Yes, maybe I occasionally have a few M&Ms or one of the homemade cookies I baked this afternoon for S’s arrival home from his freshman year in college, but really these goodies are for them. It’s a game we all happily (and complicitly) play: They’re happy to have the goodies in place and openly acknowledge that, and I in turn feel good about providing them. It’s all good.
Except that what it really means is that food becomes an emotional buffer, precisely the thing I planned to make sure NEVER happened once I became a parent.
I probably should have been stronger. More focused. Just better at the whole thing. But I was only as good as I could be at the time, and at the time, I was still struggling with “good” foods and “bad” foods myself, and so this is what we have: mostly good food available and some sugary bits thrown in besides.
It’s an imperfect world. I take solace in the fact that I did not make my kids clean their plates and did not say — at least I don’t think I said it — that they could have dessert if only they finished what was on their plates. These, too, were on my list of no-nos when I was deciding exactly the kind of parent I would become, you know right around age 16 when I was oh-so-smart and my parents were oh-so-stupid.
Anyway, that’s the way I’m feeling as I write this. I’m not sure what I’ve done is wrong, but I’m also not sure I couldn’t have done it better either. Mostly I feel it’s been a bit of a muddle.
What do you think? Are you an all or nothing kind of parent? Or do you have a place you trade off the good with the bad regarding food?
Janet here: When I stopped eating red meat over 30 (!) years ago, the Moosewood Restaurant Cookbook was my bible. Mollie Katzen’s hand-scrawled recipes with quirky drawings was my go-to spot for figuring out how to serve a meal to my new live-in boyfriend (now husband) after we left working at a private school and actually had to fend for ourselves. What does one put on a plate that does not have meat as its centerpiece? I couldn’t just serve salad — my mainstay at the boarding school. We needed to eat a “meal.”
Moosewood came to the rescue big time. I went through just about every recipe in the iconic lilac covered book (except those with major mushrooms because I can’t stand mushrooms) and bought the second — and third and fourth books — as soon as they came out. I had only one failure in all those recipes — zucchini pancakes that just turned into glop in the frying pan.
Moosewood took a back seat when we had children because, well, I didn’t have children who liked vegetables that much. So we added chicken and fish into our meal plan. It was just easier than fighting.
But now that they’re gone, we’re back to eating more all-veggie meals. I pulled Moosewood a couple of weeks ago. It was like reconnecting with an old friend: instant ease and lots of good memories. I made a variation on Moosewood’s vegetable cheesecake and it was just as good as the first time I pulled it off.
Do you have a go-to cookbook? What makes it so special? We’d love to hear. I’m always looking for another cookbook.
serves at least 8
1 cup each grated carrots or zucchini or whatever you like. I did carrots and some leftover cauliflower. If you do zucchini, be sure to put in a sieve with a little salt to get rid of excess moisture. Don’t do more than 2 cups of veggies altogether.
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup minced onion
2-3 gloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons flour
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon basil and oregano
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup grated mozzarella
1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
4 large eggs
1 1/2 medium tomatoes slices
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Melt the butter in a sauce pan and saute the onions, garlic with the flour. Add the veggies with spices and cook for a few minutes until just tender.
In a large bowl stir together the eggs and cheeses. Add the sauteed veggies and pour the entire bowl into a spring-form pan that has been dusted with bread crumbs.
Cook for 30 minutes at 375. Then add the tomatoes, which you have dredged in bread crumbs, to the top. Lower heat to 350 and bake for another 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and open the oven door. Let sit there for 10 minutes. Then take out and let rest for another 10 minutes before slicing and serving.