Food is Love

A chore long overdue, sorting through my collection of recipes and organizing them in some useful way. A social isolation chore but in the end, a great thing. For me there is  joy in discovering forgotten recipes, things I saved that I thought I might try, things I wrote notes on because they were particularly good or needed adjustment. I can read cookbooks for hours so this is not surprising. What was surprising was just how many good and interesting recipes I have collected over the years.

Many of the recipes are things I made with my father, my step mom and, surprisingly, my mother. Surprising because my mother has long claimed she can’t cook; I think she just doesn’t like it. Other recipes are ones that came from my Grandma Jenny, family favorites,  used again and again -especially for Jewish holidays. One, long neglected and forgotten, was from my maternal great grandmother. It was entitled Grandmother Roe’s Nut Bread.

I have always liked making bread, and I always knead it by hand; especially now that my Kitchenaid is 30 years old give or take. There is something very satisfying about developing the gluten and putting your whole body into getting that smooth beautiful surface that means it is ready to rise. It also moves frustration from your neck to your hands to the board; rhythmic and soothing.

What I noticed, going through these pages, was that the oldest recipes, the ones from grandmothers and great grandmothers (and mothers) are the ones with the least instruction. The ingredients are listed and stand mostly alone, just an oven temp to keep them company. It is as if it was assumed that the cook would know how to do it. How to mix and in what order. How to knead and when to stop. How to test for doneness. Mostly, I do. In order to pass these recipes on I suspect I will have to amplify them somewhat for newer, younger and less experienced cooks.

It is a lovely feeling to mix and knead and bake with the same ingredients and in the same ways as the woman, and men, before me. Recipes used by generations and family long gone.  We connect through food as surely as any other way. It is why we sit down together for thanksgiving, for passover, for chanukah. It is why we gift each other cookies we ate as children, doled out by a loving hand. I know these things in my bones. Food is memory, food is connection, food can be love. And the nut bread is absolutely delicious!

 

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Expiration Dates ~ It’s a Mystery

 

Something I think is one of the great mysteries of life, and there are many, is how does water have an expiration date. What is it the producers of bottled water aren’t telling us?  Are they adding something that goes bad? Do the plastic bottles start emitting toxins after a specified period of time?

I have been warned but nevertheless have drunk tap/well/town pump water from Mexico to the Greek islands to rural upstate New York and have never suffered any toxic effects.  And I cannot honestly say that I have a particularly stout digestive system. But I have shared water bottles with dogs and cups of water with my cats. I have broken one of the cardinal rules of the new age and refilled  disposable water bottles.

There is a whole other issue surrounding expiration dates and that is the “sell by” date or “best by” date.  There are those that subscribe to the idea that once that date comes around, boom! Use or dispose.  Then there are those that say well, that is just a “sell by” and doesn’t mean that you can’t use the item ad infinitum. I have no idea which is true but the quqestion is for another day

So, I repeat, how can this life giving substance, found all over the planet for millenia have an expiration date? Perhaps we should give up the bottled water habit for this and many other reasons, not to mention the number of plastic bottles in landfills, along with plastic grocery sacks and disposable diapers. But as usual, I digress.

And while our government is dismantling decades of environmental protection  rules and regulations, we must still do our part. If everyone recycled their trash, there wouldn’t be much.  It is like voting, everyone has a little part of the whole.  So take your reusable bags to the grocery store, don’t leave them in the car – get some extra steps in and go back for them. Buy a filter for your tap water and get a good refillable “cold” bottle to take your water to work, gym, wherever. Recycle everything your town or county will take. And remember, the only important expiration date I am aware of for water is the one humans are creating on our ultimate supply.

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Salad? ~ With a Side of Memory

 

 

Ahh, summertime. Ripe tomatoes.  I am always inspired by seasonal produce despite the fact that these days we often don’t really know what is in season what with cold storage and whatnot.  When in Europe it became clear to me that when you live where food doesn’t have to be transported thousands of miles, you get fresh and ripe produce.  In this country you have to work at it.  But here in Florida you can get ripe summer tomatoes.

My father loved gazpacho and so do I.  He gave me his recipe, on the back of a random piece of paper that I still have.  We talked more about food and recipes than about anything else.  If I could not remember whether you add the oil or the vinegar first in a vinaigrette, I could call him day or night.  So many things he made are in my recipe book whether I make them or not.  And my knives have never been sharpened so well since he passed.  But as usual, I digress.

I like my gazpacho “greener” than he did.  And traditional gazpacho has bread in it and I don’t add bread to mine, I find that with more green, it is bound enough and doesn’t need the bread.  And he added a very non-traditional secret ingredient that I definitely still add, later for the reveal.

So here goes.  For a medium batch I use a very large peeled ripe tomato, about half of a large english cucumber, peeled, half to whole green bell pepper, half a sweet onion, clove or more of garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, a little vinegar (you just have to taste and can experiment with what one you like) salt to make the chemistry happen (again, taste, taste, taste) and……. aha:  V-8 juice.  Not a lot just enough to bring it together.  Add a small bunch of fresh parsley.  I make the whole think in my food processor and just keep going until I like the taste and texture.  Rather than adding bread, I serve it with good crunchy croutons.  And voila, Pop’s gazpacho, my style.

This wonderful salad/soup has been many a summer’s dinner for me.  My family found it an acquired taste.  But I love it and it always brings to mind a memory of my father who loved to cook and loved to share cooking ideas and recipes.  Someday I hope to be as imaginative in his honor.

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It’s As American As……..

I have said it before and I will say it again now, I am often troubled by the vituperative nature of the dialogue in America these days.  It feels as if people are fighting each other verbally for some idea they have of what is “American”.  It feels often as if people are saying “I am more American” than you and I am right.  And if you think I am not right, then you are not really American.  I say that what is American is the dialogue itself, and we have lost sight of that I think.  What is important about America is that we have always had the dialogue and respect for the dialogue and for those engaged in it.

It seems, currently, that it is futile to engage in talk, if I express a political opinion I am either wrong or silly or I am simply dismissed or ignored.  So I decided to take a different tack and talk about what is really and indisputably American; food.

Almost as much as sports, food is a matter of regional and ethnic pride in this country.  I was lunching on barbecue the other day and the restaurant offered a stunning array of sauces.  I knew, for example, that the golden mustard based barbecue sauce is a staple of the Carolinas, and the sweet generally associated with St. Louis.  And I am not a barbecue expert by any stretch.

I have lived in many regions of the country and have had the privilege of learning in each one.  Fresco in southern Cali, green chili in Nuevo Mexico, crab cakes in Maryland, maple syrup in New England and cornbread and fried green tomatoes in Florida.  And so much more.  As a result of living in New England I still make applesauce and can it every year.  As a result of living in New Mexico I still wrap lots of things in a warm flour tortilla.  Since I grew up in New York, I still love good rye bread, especially with pastrami.  And Florida strawberries make the best jam. And so much more.

Starting with politics and ending with food.  Maybe if we all just sat down to a meal and tempered our dialogue with shared food we would understand each other better.  Maybe if we broke cornbread together the dialogue would be tempered with respect.  A ridiculous idea I know, but this baker of apple pies can dream, because our food is as much a reflection of our diversity and the rich tapestry of our culture as our political points of view.

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Friendship and Food ~ Why do it?

Having a dinner party, or in a more modern vernacular a dinner, even when the food isn’t perfect.

First, set a beautiful table – because it matters.  Looking at a table ready for guests is almost as good as a table full of happy guests.   Next, create a menu.  All my friends know that I like to try new recipes on them and despite not knowing the results they willingly accept the risks.  So far, I haven’t poisoned anyone that I am aware of and have only had to take my guests out to eat at a restaurant once; a particularly bad grilling experience. Be bold, be creative, try new things, maybe even a theme.

Next, remember why you have dinners and invite people you love, or people who are interesting, or people you want to get to know.  Think about the chemistry; do you want interesting smart conversation, or intimacy, or just a bellyful of laughs.  And by the way, I always tell my guests it is never about reciprocity.  I don’t care if I ever see the inside of their homes, I do this because I like to.  It is for me really, they are just the incidental beneficiaries of my joy.

Ok, so plan ahead how you will cook.  Is there anything you can do in advance?  Of course I am assuming you have already shopped.  And what is your timing?  Are there any pre meal rituals, add in the time.  Make coffee before dinner; in my age group more decaf than not.  And don’t get too ambitious, it is a recipe for failure.

So my last dinner definitely not go as planned.  Hoisin glazed baby back ribs took almost an hour longer than expected.  The rice was done but stayed warm.  The stir fried green beans, thankfully didn’t get started until it seemed reasonable, but they were nevertheless in danger of overlooking.  The pickled cucumber salad was cold and didn’t suffer.  But really, nobody cared.  A glass of wine, good friends, good conversation, a bowl of steamed edamame, it was all good.

Once again nobody poisoned, the food was okay and we laughed until we cried and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company.

[tweetshare tweet=”So don’t worry too much if your house isn’t in perfect order, allow yourself the time and space to just sit and enjoy.  Don’t worry if the food isn’t perfect, your friends won’t care.” username=”TrienahM”]

This is why I do it – a table full of food, laughter and love.

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