Uncategorized

MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH YOTAM OTTOLENGHI

MY LOVE AFFAIR WITH YOTAM OTTOLENGHI

Well not really. I mean he has a family, children, I am sure a lovely wife. I am a devout monogamist. So let me clarify before the rumors start flying. My love affair is with Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbooks, his food, his ethnicity, his restaurants in London. Like the way I feel enriched by reading Ann Patchett, I am also a hungry cookbook enthusiast. I don’t collect them, but I do have a lot of cookbooks, not as many now since I began my de-cluttering quest, but I kept all my favorites and I consider them gems among my library of great reads.

When I saw his cookbook, PLENTY, in the bookstore featuring grilled eggplant slathered with Middle Eastern yogurt and pomegranate seeds on the “You had me at hello” bookcover, I was hooked. Who was this man who would soon be my kitchen paramour and my bedtime companion?

Truth be told I love to read and as much as I enjoy a great novel, I equally enjoy reading cookbooks from cover to cover. I am the (likely hopeful to the writer) geek who reads the intros because I like to know the author’s food stories. How did they get here? What are the roots of the recipes that follow? Often it is mothers’ and grandmothers’ and great grandmothers’ influence that brought them from their childhood kitchens to their cookbooks and often restaurants as is in Yotam’s case, (I am such a fan of his I feel we can be on a first name basis at this point.) And it is just as true in my own narrative in the kitchen,

Back in the day, when the Food Network didn’t exist and Julia Child was the originator of the solo television female cook on PBS, I used to get Gourmet magazine and read Ruth Reichl’s eloquent descriptions of what would be following in that month’s features. She would often refer to some of her travels and (total cheesy pun intended) I ate it up. I traveled right along side of her as I made my way as a young wife through Gourmet’s complicated recipes. I wanted to master them as some statement that I was a successful cook in my early and amateur kitchen. Ruth in her beautiful writing also opened my eyes to the notion that I could write stories weaving my recipes and food experiences within them as she did in one of my favorite books, Not Becoming My Mother.

So as I traversed the pages of PLENTY trying these unique vegetarian recipes (I am not a vegetarian, but I love all dishes containing vegetables) I fell in love. Then to my delight he, along with Sami Tamimi, came out with a follow up cookbook, JERUSALEM. These recipes filled with the lusciously simple and highly flavored Hummus recipes that are known in Israeli restaurants and homes along with hundreds of others that float me happily back to my too few visits of one of my favorite places on earth. There is a humble quote on page 13, “We draw deep inspiration from Jerusalem and its food but are in no way trying to represent its realities.” I would say in the political landscape Jerusalem finds itself recently, this was some serious foreshadowing. In reality though, Jersualem is always in a hotbed of political debate on any given time in history.

But this writing today is non political as most of mine are so let me get back to my love affair with Yotam and his cooking. I will confess, I have lovingly digested the recipes and the photos of this cookbook, but have only tried one or two. They have been delicious and like my rule about trying on the first piece of clothing in the dressing room, if it looks great, the rest will follow, but if it is a failure then that usually is a premonition of what will follow. Cookbooks are like this for me. If I try the first few recipes and they meet or exceed my expectations, the cookbooks and their authors usually become my go to gurus. Ina Garten immediately comes to mind. I have never made an Ina Garten recipe I didn’t love. She has taught me perfect roast chicken, easy tiramisu, and countless other food combinations that find their way into my kitchen from appetizers to desserts and everything in between. I love her style, her ease and simplicity and her blatant in your face use of butter. I adore, as I am sure so many romantics like myself do, her love for her husband that I, keeping my fingers crossed, hope is as great on the inside as it appears on the outside. The opposite is true for Rachel Ray’s recipes, (my father loved your recipes, Rachel, but sorry Rachel, though I love and admire your entrepreneurial brilliance, I have never had success with your recipes. I should be weary of any cookbooks that don’t contain at least a paltry dessert section. Rachel Ray is not my style anyway. Though I respect her intent, I don’t need the amateur approach she brings to the kitchen. I am kind of past that thanks to my mother and grandmother who taught me early on that whip cream does not come in a can and neither do vegetables.

I have my grandmother’s original Betty Crocker recipe book that has every staple you could imagine, worn buttery and torn pages especially of her Christmas cookies, pies and pancakes that I still use today way more then fifty years later. I also use my great grandmother’s Libby Hillman cookbook that was passed down from my grandmother to my mother to me and still has a very pragmatic plastic clear book cover on it to protect it from all future food stains. Gotta love the Depression conservation mentality. I wish this had been instilled in me along with my love of food. Maybe my next life I will be the frugal fanny of my great grandmother’s generation.

So like this past Sunday when I was reminded of my deep admiration for Ann Patchett as I read her opinion piece in the Sunday Times, I opened the paper yesterday morning and lo and behold in the Wednesday NYT food section, there is a happy piece by my pretend kitchen partner, Yotam himself. Not only was I transported into my pantry to pull out the aforementioned cookbooks, but I was sent back in my travel reflection time machine to last January with my son and cousins in London on our last night eating at where else, OTTOLENGHI! One of our highlights of the many foodie stops on our week in glorious London. It did not disappoint. So when I spotted his sweet take on brunch and weekend morning eating in his writing this morning, Slow Down, It’s the Weekend, I gobbled it up. I identified with his comments about weekday rushing and weekend not rushing and the joy of a great breakfast. I realized I had all of the ingredients in my cabinets to try his Maple Cardamom Saffron Sticky Buns. (Totally honest though and I am sorry Yotam and all of the purists out there, I did not have the fresh vanilla bean or the cardamom pods so I made due. I hope you will forgive me. I also had no saffron threads so I used cinnamon instead, please do not think less of me). I had the time because I have been still waking up at 4am. I had the yeast too. Now yeast and I have not had very good luck. I consider myself a great baker, but yeast is its own character and as many times as I have attempted to make things with yeast, I am seldom satisfied with the bricks I end up with. So as a result, needless to say, I don’t often move in the yeast direction. But today, the first morning my son is back from college, I fantasized about the freshly baked moist buns wafting their scented aroma up to my son’s bedroom almost forcing him awake. There are the realities of motherhood and the fantasy world of motherhood surely and this sticky bun making experience could go either way. I trust Yolam as previously stated, but I am slightly intimidated by yeast and like our pets and their intuitive ability to pick up our energy, yeast too picks up this vibe and the end result is the energy you put into it.

So here I sat at 9am waiting for the dough to rise in the draft free space. My fantasy was that they would rise as Yolam said they would. The reality though is that this would be unlikely because the dough never was soft and elasticky as my cooking guide said it would. I mean relationships can’t all be perfect all the time. I refused to admit defeat though, whether they rise to the double size he promised or not, I will still bake them so at least the smell will reveal that I tried. That my intention for this first morning my son has returned expecting something home cooked from his mother, is a good one. But I still walked down to Bristol Bagels and picked up his favorite bagels and cream cheese as a back up just in case. If these did not work out, I already knew I would try again because I know Yolam will not let me down. I forged ahead and followed the recipe rolling them into the balls, continuing on though frankly still loaded with self-doubt. I refused to give in and I can’t stand throwing away food so there is the depression influence as I my mind began considering what I could turn the potential failures into so as not to throw them away. Within five minutes, though, the aroma became intoxicating and as they continued to cook, I took another look at the black and white photo of them and I realized that their bumpiness actually matched the photo! Be still my beating heart, could this turn out to be a success? As I made my way to the stovetop to make the maple cardamom buttery glaze, my son made his way downstairs and all was well in my world. I pulled the buns out and brushed the tops excited to take my first bite and to watch Michael. Success indeed. And as I watched the nine of the buttery delights dwindle to two throughout the day, I fell deeper in love with my man Yotam and I can’t wait to try the next one.





recipes

POTATO LATKES

POTATO LATKES

Dearest Michael,

My dear love. For me, one of the greatest pleasures since you came into our lives is including Judaism as part of it. We have never been religious Jews, but certainly cultural ones and of course this is where food comes into the story. The traditions of Jewish holidays were always important to me. Knowing that you have four sets of Great Great Grandparents who escaped Russian pogroms for both opportunity in America, but also religious freedom has been an important enough reason to be sure to keep the tradition of our history alive. The way this has translated besides Hebrew School, your Bar Mitzvah and your first trip to Israel has been to celebrate the holidays. I have not always been super consistent with all things Jewish for sure. But knowing that I made a mark and exposed you to the values and rituals from the time you were born has been enough for me and hopefully for you too. It has not been an easy task to keep the traditions alive raising you in a primarily Catholic community, but this is the part of Judaism that many Jews struggle with so we march forth. I hope that as you make your way through your twenties, Judaism is part of your essence and your guide. I love that I was raised Jewish and I have deep memories of this connection. Of course food has been a centerpiece that has surrounded the experience and has added to the delight.

One of the ways I have tried to keep tradition alive has been to have Holiday parties, Passover Seders, Rosh Hashanah, Sukkot and of course Hanukkah have all been part of your life and inviting friends to be a part of this has added to the fun. Your great grandmother Isabelle made some delicious food for the Jewish Holidays. I have already listed her BRISKET and ISABELLE’S CHICKEN in previous entries. Since Hanukkah is on its way, I thought it would be apropos to include her delicious Latke recipe. This is not really “her” recipe because pretty much every basic LATKE recipe is this one, but since she was the one who taught me how to make these, I give her the shoutout. This recipe is one of your favorites and since I only make them once a year, they are even more special to those tastebuds of yours.

I hope that you will try to make these sometime in your life when you have your own apartment; for now though, you can count on me at least once a year.

Love Mom

POTATO LATKES

I only make these once a year mainly because they are time consuming, but also because they really make your house smell like onions for a few days. I make a gigantic batch and freeze them. I usually quadruple this recipe.

The food processor is your friend here, I know there are purists who use a regular box grater, but I have never done that. I always use the shredding attachment to the Cuisinart.

4–6 Russet Potatoes, peeled and shredded

2 onions, shredded

1–2 eggs

Matzo meal or flour (I always use matzo meal)

Salt and pepper

Peanut oil

Grate the potatoes and onions and put in a large strainer lined with a clean dishcloth

You will need to strain as much liquid out as possible so don’t be impatient with this. Keep squeezing out the liquid, you cannot do this too much, it will be your friend when you form them.

Get a large frying pan out and put a generous amount of peanut oil and turn the stove on to the higher side of medium. The pan needs to be super hot.

Once you get most of the moisture out, place into the bowl and add the egg and generous amounts of salt and pepper, mix with your hands until well blended. The mixture should be on the moist side but not over liquidy, add the next egg if your instinct tells you to.

Begin adding matzo meal (or flour) to get everything to stick together so that you will easily be able to shape into small thin patties. You will be tempted to make the patties bigger than necessary. Go small and flatter. They will cook better and get the crispy edges that make these delicious.

Once they are formed place in the very hot pan (they should sizzle) and press flat. Be patient. Don’t play with them, just let them fry.

Flip when super brown and crispy.

Place on a long rectangle pan lined with paper towels and cook all of them layering them in the pan layered with paper towels.

If you decide to freeze, allow to cool and layer between wax paper and wrap tightly. When you take them out of the freezer, place in an oven that is about 325 and cook until crispy and heated again.

Serve with applesauce and sour cream and remember to give the dreidel a spin too!

I LOVE YOU.

recipes, side dishes

RICE PILAF

RICE PILAF

Dearest Michael,

We are just coming off our weekend away celebrating your great grandfather’s 100th birthday. You are lucky. I am lucky. We are lucky. You got to go and witness along with all of your cousins spending that precious time together we don’t often get to have. A 100TH birthday celebration though warrants the excuse and with it is comes the joys and stark realities that this time like the many visits before could be the last one. This trip is humbling more than any before because even though 100 is a significant milestone, what lies behind is much more than what lies ahead. This is just simple math. I as your mother sit with a watchful eye and you as my son get to go back to your young life with the appreciation of the time you have had in your twenty young years.

This trip even though this is on Grandpa Dave’s side of the family, brings notice of Grandma Ann. Grandma Ann, your grandmother, my estranged mother by her choice is the only person besides dad’s siblings and direct relatives who would know Grandpa Herbie longer than we do. Because she got married to Grandpa Dave at the age you are now, she is in the seat of knowing grandpa for a little more than me and he knew her longer than I knew her again because of simple math.

This trip and the reflection of a life well lived has caused a stir in me that made me write a letter to Grandma while I was sunning at the beach on my last day in Florida. Life is short. Grandma’s hard to repair disconnect of us has caused harm in the way we all go forward in our family. Not for you and me. Not for you and me and Dad. But her purposeful detachment has forever changed the dynamic of a grandson and grandmother interact. This is sad as I think about all of the life events that lie ahead that she doesn’t get to share with her own daughter with you as our centerpiece. These are projections. Though, anything is possible and I hope the one thing I teach you is to never cut someone off, that part of the family history on Grandma Ann’s side is prevalent and it is not helpful to your soul. I hope that the lesson I teach you by reaching back out helps you know that there is always time when there is time.

I don’t think she ever really thought the ramifications through when she asked that I not contact her again, but as Grandpa Herbie would say, “Be that as it may.” She is still my mother, and with that comes my need to focus on all that was good. All that is good. And a majority of this goodness that surrounds me is the food conversation. The three women in my life who had the most food and kitchen influence on me were Grandma Kitsie, Grandma Belle and Grandma Ann. And as a result you get their influence. You can add to this Grandma Sandy and Dad with a capital D and there was no chance you would not appreciate and love all things food. One of my favorite go to recipes of Grandma Ann (and actually this was Grandma Kitsie’s recipe) was RICE PILAF. Not the kind you buy in a box, but like everything these women made, from scratch.

I loved this recipe and I made it a lot in my young married days. I am pretty sure Dad loved it and I hope you will too. I know mushrooms are not one of your favorite, but they add a great flavor to this. You can chop them fine if it is a texture thing. I suppose you could leave them out too, but they do add a wonderful flavor.

I LOVE YOU.

RICE PILAF

1 stick of good butter

2 cans of BEEF CONSOMME (I think College Inn or Campbells)

1 Cup of Uncle Bens Long Grain Rice

1 medium onion chopped fine

1 package of mushrooms sliced or diced to whatever size works for you.

Preheat oven to 375.

Using a covered Corning Ware dish, pour the consomme into a measuring cup and add enough water so you end up with 2 ¼ cups. (I think 2 cans may be a little shy or a little over, I can’t remember as I write this, regardless just make sure that the amount of liquid is total 2 ¼ cups.

Place uncovered into the oven while it is preheating and leave it there while you are preparing the rice.

In a good size sauté skillet, the big cast iron is a good one, melt butter on medium heat and add the cup of rice sautéing it until it is lightly golden.

Add chopped onion and mushrooms sautéing together until fragrant, about five minutes or so.

Take the consomme out of the oven and turn the oven down to 350.

Add rice mixture to consomme and stir lightly. Place back in oven covered for about 35 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.

Stir before serving.

recipes

BLUEBERRY CAKE

BLUEBERRY CAKE

Dearest Michael,

There is something about a recipe that is handed down from generations. Like Grandma’s HOT FUDGE SAUCE, the blur of the typeface from years of butter on my fingers and hence the recipe, the yellowing of the card, the smear of chocolate all add to the magic of the recipe.

This is a new recipe as you have just started to break out of your comfort zone for your morning breakfasts. You used to be very particular about the am food intake. Chocolate Chip Pancakes, Sweet Bread Stuffed French Toast, Cheese and Red Pepper and Onion Fritatta or Cinnamon Sugar Bagel from Bristol Bagels with only Bristol Bagel cream cheese- see picky, or rather particular. I raised you this way I suppose. Of course, you were always game for breakfast at our go to morning hole in the wall, HOPE DINER. Nowadays, (thank you college and THE LOBSTER POT summer employment) you have branched out into onion or everything bagels, fried egg sandwiches on Brioche rolls from Baptista Bakery, and this new Whitehouse favorite, Mrs. Chace’s Blueberry Cake passed down from one of my dearest friends, Marcia.

In this fast paced world of drive thru muffin shops, four dollar donuts coated with fruit loops, buying a store bought mix these days now seems retro. Baking “from scratch” is so easy and quick if you have the ingredients on hand. Besides the fresh blueberries in this recipe, I always do. Flour, sugar, butter, baking powder, brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla- the staples of a baking pantry. I learned this from your grandmother, my mother and she learned it from her mother. Lucky for this lesson, you, my dear Michael, are the luckier one.

There is something inherently old fashioned about waking up in the morning and pulling out the perfectly sized square Corning Ware glass pan. This favorite cooking dish belonged to your Great Great Grandmother Mimi and I received it from your Great Grandmother Isabelle when they were selling our summer family home in Naples, Maine and had to break down the house belongings. There is something comforting about creaming the dish with fresh butter and setting the stove to 375, getting the recipe ready while you are sleeping. As I sift the dry ingredients and look fondly at the recipe, I am connecting with generations of women who have baked this very recipe for their families. There are some recipes that I just don’t want to re write so I am including it just as I received it from Marcia at a birthday party I had for myself when we first moved into our condo on Poppasquash in March of 2011 when I turned 46. I had just left Dad and I know this was a hard time for you. I am hoping that the continuity and the efforts Dad and I made to keep you in our foremost focus during this difficult time made this painful transition at least a bit softer. My dear friend, Ros has since passed away, but his famous blueberry bushes live on forever in their proud place in this glorious recipe.

MRS. CHACE’S PRUDENCE ISLAND BLUEBERRY CAKE (as written by Marcia to me)

My husband, Ros has 60 blueberry bushes on our property on Prudence Island, and we look forward to July when the early bushes produce fruit. One of the first things I cook with the berries is Mrs. Chase’s blueberry cake. This recipe originated with Mrs. Eugene Chase, a year-round resident of Prudence Island from the 19th century well into the 20th. This recipe was first in print in the early 1940’s. Blueberries, blackberries, wild strawberries and elderberries are native to the island.

We enjoy this blueberry cake all summer with a hot cup of coffee in the morning or a glass of red wine after dinner as a summer dessert.

2 C sifted flour

2/3 C sugar

2 tsp baking powder

½ tsp salt

½ C softened butter (not melted)

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

½–3/4 C milk (Marcia and I have discussed this, she has used almond milk and it has worked fine, I have used buttermilk and ½ and ½ and it has also worked terrifically)

2 C blueberries

Sift dry ingredients. Cut in softened butter. Add slightly beaten eggs, vanilla and milk and then blueberries. Place in a well greased 8 x 11 pan. (I have used the square pan as mentioned but it is a little small. The pan I prefer is the grey square that is a little bigger, but I baked this recipe for Stephen and Julie B. when Stephen’s mom passed away so they would have something to eat before going to the funeral and I am waiting for its return.)

Topping

½ C golden brown sugar

1 Tbsp butter

½ t cinnamon

¼ C pecan meats (optional) I don’t use pecans (neither do I)

Mix brown sugar, butter and cinnamon together. Then add the nuts if desired. Spread over cake before baking.

Bake in 375 degree oven for about 35 minutes.

Here are a few pointers:

· “C” = CUP, “T = TABLESPOON, “tsp” = teaspoon

· Do not skip the sifting.

· When measuring the flour, scoop it into the measuring cup, then with a knife swipe it across the top of the measuring cup so that it is exactly the right cup full. Baking is precise, too much flour will make it dry, but if you do decide to be lazy, you can always add a little more milk.

· The recipe and some others will call for “cutting in the butter.” This may seem odd the first time you try the recipe, but it is exactly as it sounds- you take a slightly softened full stick of butter, cut it down the center lengthwise and then cut it into small cubes. Add them to the flour mixture and with a fork and knife, just simply cut it. It will be chunky and will not be mixed in smooth. This is the glory of this recipe and what makes it so moist. Baking is about not over mixing and not overthinking. Kind of funny that I am a good baker because I tend to overthink many things, but not baking. It is my happy place for sure.

· Always place in a prepared over, meaning preheat to 375 and don’t put in the oven until it is at 375, hot and ready.

I LOVE YOU.

recipes

DEAREST MICHAEL

CHICKEN SOUP W MATZO BALLS

While I was busy getting my barn ready for Jay’s Junk’s visit, I came across three old cookbooks. For a while I was sort of collecting old cookbooks because they have so much history and reflections of certain eras, (hence the need for a business like Jay’s Junk because along with cookbook collecting comes vintage kitchenware, turquoise canister sets, and an endless collection of many other collections, but more on this in another writing). One was called The Whitehouse Cookbook written by former Whitehouse chef, “Francois Rysavy as told to Frances Spatz Leighton,” head chef before Jimmy Carter. Not only does it have the recipes prepared for presidential and state dinners, but also some of the recipes from the actual Presidents and their wives. This book is a gem because it really demonstrates the different formalities of these times pre-Pinterest, pre-Tweeting and pre-Ipad. It has collections of meals like, Thomas Jefferson Birthday Dinner on the 228th Anniverary of His Birth and is listed under Chapter 8, named Jefferson, the First Whitehouse Gourmet.

The other delight was The Tollhouse Cookbook, by Ruth Wakefield the actual owner of The Tollhouse Inn. I never knew, or questioned for that matter, where the phrase Toll House came from when it came to the endless batches of cookies my grandmother made (and froze) or the Toll House chocolate chip pie I whip up for many hungry adoring fans, (you know who you are). It turns out the actual Toll House Inn was in Massachusetts and the Toll House cookie was created there too.

The third cookbook I came across was a cookbook written in 1959 by Mildred O. Knopf (sister in law of the famous publisher, Alfred, sometimes proving it’s not what you know, but who- just sayin’) named Cook, My Darling Daughter. The premise of this cookbook was from a mother who loved her daughter, Wendy, so much that she wanted to write a cookbook that was “Not a book about ‘how to boil water,’ but a book for young women who want to learn how to love to cook.” Brilliant. Each section preceding has a letter to her daughter on the thought process for the upcoming section. It is lovely and it makes me connect with all of the food that has been cooked for me over the years. Food is surely a connector.

What got me thinking was the intent of two of these cookbooks, both including personal dedications to the daughters they loved and I started thinking about what kinds of inspiring and thoughtful memories similar to this I could leave my son. Actually I first thought how sad that I don’t have my mother to write this for me, but because of all of my therapy and work I have done, immediately replaced these potentially sour thoughts with how I could translate this into a memory for my own son.

When he was first born I wrote in a journal every day until he was about three. I was really disciplined in doing this and when I pull out the writings I laugh at how excited I was by a five hour night sleep or a simple expression he made for the first time. On each birthday, I wrote him a letter probably until he was eight or nine sealing each of them to give to him later. Not sure when. College graduation, first job, first home, marriage, first born child? Who knows, when the time is right, I will know. This I know. I came across them the other day when I was getting ready for my soon to be new best friends, Jay’s Junk and contemplated opening them. I have absolutely no idea what they say and I am guessing that was the point. This must be why I sealed them and they are not addressed to me so I have released the need to open them. I wish I had put them in one unique place, but I didn’t, I know where at least these five of them are and as I move through cleanup phase, I will create a Michael spot so I (or he) can access easily when that time is right.

I love the idea of a cookbook, but with the added twists and turns of life intertwined from the stories I include with the recipes.

These cookbooks were a sign of the times- recipes directed at “busy housewives” to make their busy day with their children easier and so they could also be fresh and ready for ‘their man’s return from his busy day at the office.’ I like the idea of knowing that Dave and I raised a young man who can fend for himself in the kitchen and that Michael knows that when two people are raising a child, it takes both to participate in the meal preparation. We taught him unintentionally by our example a love of food, of love of kitchen, good knives, good pans and some kick ass meals. Dave tends to cook big and thick, mac and cheese with bacon and sausage or his mother’s stuffing loaded with Portuguese bread, sausage and chourico, a spicy Portuguese sausage because one type is just not enough. Dave taught Michael a love of BIG ASS burgers and trying new recipes. I taught Michael to buy really good meat at Persimmon Provisions or Venda Ravioli, and to drive endlessly for great food to specialty stores like my grandmother taught my mother and my mother taught me. Dave taught Michael daily shopping for the meal to be cooked that evening. He learned from me simple healthy cooking, homemade salad dressing with just oil, lemon, garlic, Bolognese sauce with really good crushed tomatoes and the best pasta. I love the mix of these unintended lessons, it is just who we are as parents and when we were married as a couple and as we moved on through a divorce how we live in our lives when Michael is with each of us.

It was really important to me that Michael travel and see the world so he experienced Madrid, Menorca, Tel Aviv, London and seeing some of our own beautiful country. Food was always a part of the great experiment called child rearing and his love of ethnic food comes from his exposure to the other parts of the world. Besides healthy eating in both of our Whitehouses, he has learned a love of homemade baked treats, cheesecake from our friend, Morgan, themed sugar cookies from our friend, Karen, and of course the slew of chocolate chip things I have been making since he was born. Sugar is bad for sure, but when sugar represents love and family, how can it be all that bad?

When I think in terms of writing a cookbook for him, I can’t help but think of the mishmash of theme. In one moment we are eating beautiful salmon baked with only a dollop of coconut oil, salt and pepper and fresh arugula salad and in the next meal eating buffalo chicken lasagna loaded with blue cheese, cheddar cheese, mozzarella and ricotta. Dave could be making a prime rib with mashed potatoes one night and the next night serving extra large cheese burgers on white bread buns and tator tots. My old neighbors, Karen and Bob may be making a big vat of American Chop Suey, circa 1960’s and sharing it with our tribe. No shortage of delicious food coming at him and he has a delightful and very opened appreciation of great food. So as I contemplate a compilation of recipes that tell a story of his young life, there are so many I would have to include not only from Dave and me, but from grandparents and extended family as well as friends who have stepped in for the family we don’t have here around us. With all of the endless discussions about nutrition and clean eating, all my own personal self talk about my constant worry of indulging in some old tried and true recipes that are dairy or sugar or chocolate (or all three) and the endless worry I have about my son’s non organic raised beef consumption or lack of regular fruit and vegetable intake, what I do know is that good food cooked for someone you love with love is love. Love is healing. So even if intake is not always the best, I know that the intention of the food and how it lands in your lap (or in your stomach) can be a miraculous cure all. Just look at the well known healing properties of old fashioned Jewish Chicken Soup, my first entry into this LETTER TO MICHAEL. I am imagining this project will be quite a long process as I add this to my ever growing list of things I want to accomplish. Here is my start- a test run.

 

Dearest Michael,

As my first entry into this book I write for you, I have to begin with Chicken Soup as number one. The warm garlicky broth base has been the go to soup since you could eat real food. Its intense healing power has cured colds, flus, coughs, cold nights and been part of our tribe and our extended family for over twenty years. This soup as been a proud member of our family menus for every Jewish Holiday we have celebrated in both small company and large gatherings of over forty for Passover, Hanukkah and Roshashannah. The recipe actually started from one I found in a Bon Appetit Magazine called Garlic Soup. As a young and enthusiastic wife, I used to get cooking magazines well before cooking shows had their own network let alone existed. Ruth Reichl was the editor of Gourmet and I would hungrily read each of her entries from her travels and forge ahead with the recipes filled with butter and cream and unusual ingredients. “Back then” we mothers and fathers, if they were interested, (yours were) read cookbooks and magazines teaching ourselves in the kitchen. This recipe transformed into the soup you know and love and is one of my favorite meals to cook for you as soon as the weather gets that first New England chill. I hope this recipe becomes your go to meal for your future family. I am imagining that with both Dad and my influence, you will add and tweak it to make it your own in your next twenty years as you head off onto your own yellow brick road.

Love Mom

MOM’S (AKA ALAYNE’S) JEWISH CHICKEN SOUP

INGREDIENTS

GOOD OLIVE OIL

15–20 CLOVES OF GARLIC

4–6 ORGANIC CARROTS

3–4 ORGANIC CELERY STALKS

1 MEDIUM ONION

1 LARGE ROASTED ORGANIC CHICKEN (PRECOOKED IS THE EASIEST)

SALT, PEPPER, BAY LEAF

FRESH PARSLEY

CHICKEN STOCK OR BROTH (2 BOXES OR MORE)

RICE (OPTIONAL)

LEMON

FRESH SPINACH LEAVES

MATZO BALL MIX

HOW TO TURN THE INGREDIENTS INTO MAGIC

Heat ¼ cup of good olive oil or coconut oil in a pan that makes you happy to cook in

IN A CUISINART, mix the following:

Garlic, carrots, celery stalks, onion

MINCE WELL and add to the heated oil above.

Add a lot of fresh salt and pepper and a bay leaf- (more salt than you probably think)

Saute until fragrant and soft about 7–8 minutes- do not brown.

While this is cooking take the Cuisinart bowl and add cooked chicken pieces- chop till chunky.

(I buy a whole cooked organic chicken at Whole Foods because it is easy, but if you want to go purist- then buy a whole chicken and cook it ahead of time, keep the broth for future use.)

Add chopped chicken to this and mix well until heated, about 6–7 minutes

Add 2 boxes of organic chicken stock or broth

Add about 3 Tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley

Bring to a boil (if you are adding rice- add about ¼ cup here) and then turn down and simmer for as long as a few hours. You will probably need more salt and pepper- I used to add three bouillon cubes back in the day until I found out they were loaded with MSG so I stopped (but it does add a rocking flavor)

MATZO BALLS

If you want to add them (and you will because this is the secret to this soup and this is what made you love it when you were little) go to the Jewish section of the grocery store and buy the box that says Matzo Balls and follow the directions. The secret to them being fluffy is to drop them in the boiling water and cover the pan with the lid while they cook. When they float to the top, they are ready. Add them to the soup anytime. They won’t get mushy.

10 MINUTES BEFORE SERVING THE SOUP- Add a few handfuls of spinach leaves, a squeeze of lemon and a splash of Cayenne Pepper, this is especially important if you are making the soup because you or someone is sick. It seriously seals the deal. Cover until spinach is just wilted and serve with the joy you know it will be bringing shortly.