Heart of a Teacher

I’ve spent the last several days taking it easy after surgery (more later), which for me means doing only half of what I normally do and sneaking things in when Jeff isn’t looking! While I love a good nap as much as the next guy or gal, forced stillness is not my thing.

However, in an effort to follow the doctor’s orders, I have been taking some time to sit still and go through back issues of cooking magazines to note (in my new Recipe Tracking Guide) those recipes I’d like to try in the future.  Having uninterrupted time to look at magazines has been luxurious and I’ve found all kinds of things I skimmed over in the past.  While thumbing through the April 2012 issue of bon appetit, I found an interview that I hadn’t read previously.

The interviewer talked with Keith McNally, restauranteur and owner of Balthazar, NYC.  Mr. McNally’s answer to one of the questions made me laugh out loud – probably because he hit the nail squarely on the head in terms of how I view most celebrity chefs.

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Food Journal

I realized today that even though I’ve only been Blogging about food since September of last year; I’ve been Jlogging about food for a lot longer!

Front Cover w FlowersI’ve spent the majority of the day committing to paper recipes for a class I am teaching in a few weeks; and, as often happens when I am thinking about things I’ve made in the past, I pulled out my food journal.  It will come as no surprise to those of you who have read past posts that I got sidetracked!  My self-diagnosed ADD kicked in AGAIN and with a smile on my face I traveled down memory lane.

My food journal is a beautiful brown-leather covered volume that I swore I would keep in pristine condition – I vowed to only write in it in my best handwriting.  Ahhh, the best laid plans…… A few of the pages began neatly – with legible printing; but over time they have become splattered and spilled upon and you can see some days where my passion for what I was recording overtook my desire to write neatly!  That’s how passion goes….

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Inspiration

You never know where you’ll get your inspiration!

I have read thousands of magazines over the years – probably  half of them cooking magazines.  In fact, in my very first post on the blog – Welcome! – I wrote about my love of cookbooks and magazines.  I wrote about how on my birthday Jeff brings me cooking magazines and a cup of coffee in bed and I am immersed for hours.

This week was NOT my birthday (I am not celebrating them more frequently than I absolutely have to), but I was thrilled to receive a magazine from our friends, Alicia and Jason, while I was “recovering” from some outpatient surgery.  Although we haven’t known each other for very long, they clearly know me quite well.  They made Jeff and I a wonderful dinner and sent along a copy of one of my favorite magazines, La Cucina Italiana.

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I Get By With a Little Help from My Friends…..

…..and family!

Good Friday Morning (possibly afternoon by the time this finally gets published)! The sky is blue, the clouds are puffy and I’m feeling good! On Wednesday I had outpatient surgery and I cannot tell you how completely blessed I feel by the people who offered prayers and support – both emotional and physical.

The surgery I had is fairly routine and aside from what is probably typical apprehension about any surgery, I was not particularly worried.  Even so, it was so comforting to know that there were so many friends and family members praying for me and Jeff.  The phone calls and text messages and email messages you sent (and continue to send) were (are) greatly appreciated.  A kind word from a friend or just knowing that someone is thinking of you goes a long, long way!

We appreciate all the offers we had for meals – more than we could possibly have ever accepted!  How fortunate we are to know so many generous, thoughtful people.  The two meals we received – from my mom & dad and from our friends Alicia & Jason – will last us a long while, as it’s just the two of us most nights! And not only were the meals abundant, they were both downright comforting!

Meatloaf and Mashed Potatoes

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Lies, Lies, Lies, Yeah

Well tonight was the last night of the 13-week Bible study I started with some amazing women back in September.  We had a spectacular final evening of fun, food and fellowship with one another.

We also shared what we learned throughout the study. And I must say it was a remarkable journey.  To have a place where you can be completely transparent and find love and support rather than hate and criticism is a truly rare thing.  I appreciate all the women who walked with me and with whom I walked on this road.

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It’s a Family Tradition

Yesterday, Jeff and I met my “cousin,” Richie, for a little shopping and lunch in Philadelphia’s Italian Market.  This meeting got me to thinking about family and about traditions.  Richie is considerably younger than I am – in fact I remember he was still in a car seat when I was in my freshman year of college – and for some reason it struck me yesterday that his memory of our family’s traditions is very different from my memory of them.

All this ruminating on traditions got Jeff and I talking about them on the way from central PA to Philly in the morning.  He shared with me what he remembers about holiday traditions throughout his life (who he spent the holidays with, where they held their holiday meals or celebrations, and what kinds of food they had) and I shared with him what I remember about holiday traditions throughout mine.  We talked about how in his family the holiday traditions changed over time (at least during the time he was living with his family, roughly from birth to his early 20s) and how in my family they remained very much the same – at least from my perspective.

Of course, we talked about the subject with Richie over “sangwiches” at Paesano’s in the Italian Market. And he has a completely different perspective on the subject than either Jeff or I.  Not only is he from a different generation; but his parents are divorced and so he has two separate celebrations of each holiday and he is also dating a lovely girl whose family lives in a different state than his family, which adds another layer of holiday travel and tradition.

Don’t miss the pics of marketing or “sangwiches” at Paesano’s.  Click here to view them!

I wonder, since his generation is much more transient than mine (and mine is much more than my parent’s), if we’ve lost traditions over time or just built a new kind……

In my parent’s “day,” holidays were all about family (and, of course, food) and it was fairly easy (compared to today) to get the family together because for the most part the extended family lived relatively close to one another.  I see with people in my age cohort, that holidays are less about family – perhaps due to geographic spread.  And I wonder in the generations younger than mine, if the holiday traditions will be even less about family.

OR, do we have to change the way we define family?

When I was thinking about family this evening – what popped in my head is, “family is the people God gave to you and the people God gave you to.”  That could encompass biological families; but it can also include the families we choose….spouses, friends, etc.

It makes me sad to think that traditions are lost over time; but perhaps they aren’t lost so much as they evolve.  And I wonder, if we could, what we would choose for our traditions….

Strangely enough, I was thumbing through this month’s edition of bon appetit magazine just before I sat down at my computer and began reading an article by Adam Sachs entitled “The Tradition Starts Here.”  The end of the article reads, “The main thing I hope he’ll [author referring to his son] remember is to improve them as he goes.  Our traditions are only as good as we make them.”

So as much as I want to pass down the traditions of my youth to my nieces; I’ll be sure this year to ask them what they want their traditions to be or how they’d like to change/improve them.  AND I am looking forward to starting some new traditions….I’ve written before about how much I enjoyed “visiting” on the holidays as a kid, but that’s gotten more difficult because of geography.  Our extended family is much more spread out now than ever before – so (1) we’ll have to start “visiting” on the actual holidays with friends, and (2) we’ll have to be more intentional to set aside time for “visiting” with family.  It certainly won’t be as spontaneous as I remember, but the important part is that we’ll be together.

Jeff, Me and Richie waiting at a VERY crowded Paesano’s. Waited a LLLOOONNNGGG time, but it was good to catch up and worth the wait!

 

Ladies Who Lunch

Growing up I remember doing a lot of “visiting” on and around the holidays – in fact, it was one of my favorite parts about this time of year.  Visiting in my family typically occurred at one of three places – my grandmother’s house, her sister Mary’s house, or their sister Mag’s (Margaret) house.  Later in the evening, after each of the three families had finished their main holiday meal, all the families got together and……well…….ate some more!  Not a full meal, but there was always food and drink.

My Aunt Mary (actually my mom’s aunt, but we called her Aunt Mary)  had the best setup at her house for the large number of people who gathered because she and her husband – Uncle George – had a basement with a table that I thought could seat about 100 people!  Invariably, the women gathered either in the kitchen or the dining room (usually the kitchen), the men around the t.v., and the kids in the basement.  If I promised to be quiet, I got to sit with the big girls in the kitchen…..so, believe it or not (and I know this will be a stretch for those of you who know my ability to talk), I was quiet – most of the time!

What I remember enjoying was all the generations being together talking and laughing.  Yesterday we had a mini recreation of holiday visiting at my mom’s house.  My Aunt Pam (again, not my aunt, but my mom’s cousin – but they may as well have been sisters) came out to visit from Bethlehem; so my sister (Laura) and her girls (Vanessa and Ashley) joined my mom (Connie), Aunt Pam, and me for lunch.  It was great to have several generations around the table talking and laughing!

My mom made lentil sausage soup – Ina Garten’s recipe from her book Barefoot in Paris – and served warm bread and rolled provolone cheese & salami.  It was a warm, hearty, satisfying lunch with exceptional company and great conversation.  Cross-generational communication is always interesting to me! And I am seeing things from a new perspective these days….as I was growing up I was in the youngest or younger generation at gatherings and now I’m smack dab in the middle, so I have a new view of things – I get to listen to the younger generation and be amazed at how smart younger people are these days and occasionally roll my eyes!

Our time together was heart-warming to me….we ate good food and talked about all aspects of life – from work and careers to relationships and life lessons.  We also talked some about family history.  I love hearing stories about how things used to be; but I also love the exuberance of the generation who is just beginning their own traditions!

For dessert I made an Apple Upside Down Cake – an adaptation of a recipe from Diane Phillips – one of the instructors at the Kitchen Shoppe.  In a recent class, Diane made Pear Upside Down Cake with Warm Caramel Sauce – since I couldn’t find nice pears, I used apples and it was a nice twist on the original using ingredients that were available to me in the moment. Luckily, I was able to garnish the serving platter with the most delicious chocolate-covered candied orange peel made by my Aunt Pam – a treat we always enjoy.  We also sipped Aunt Pam’s homemade Limoncello Cream, a variation of standard limoncello from Sorrento (which you can usually purchase in a liquor store).  Limoncello Cream is made with lemons, grain alcohol, milk, sugar, and water.  It warms the body as well as the soul and since it’s not readily available, has to be homemade!

After lunch Laura and the girls left – each going a separate way. Vanessa home to West Chester to have dinner with her boyfriend, Justin.  Ashley back to school in Millersville. And Laura home – just a bit down the road in Mechanicsburg.

Mimi (my mom, Connie), Aunt Pam and I left for a little shopping.  We went to First Impressions in Linglestown – one of my favorite shops and then to Community Aid and Making Sense in Mechanicsburg. Aunt Pam won the prize for best bargains of the day.  For under $20 she bought a Talbot’s down vest, a Ralph Lauren sweater-ish vest, a three-piece velour and wool outfit from Saks Fifth Avenue – with the tag still on, a cute purse and two aperitif (no, Mimi, not “a parakeet”) glasses that I think are Mikasa. Wow – she is a consignment guru!!!

As we were driving along the river going from the East Shore to the West Shore, God treated us to the most amazing sunset…..I just have to share a photo with you, but the photo simply does not do justice to the beauty we saw before us!

In the last several years, time and distance and life (literally birth and death) has changed the makeup of our extended family.  Gatherings of extended family don’t happen nearly as often and they certainly aren’t the same as I remember them. I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to have a family lunch yesterday and I hope we can use it as a spring-board for more extended family gatherings.  I grew up spending a lot of time in the company of my aunts, uncles and cousins and I miss that time.  Although it won’t ever be exactly what it was, I hope that we can create new traditions and memories for all the generations!

Photos of the Apple Upside Down Cake w/ Warm Caramel Sauce Garnished with Chocolate-Covered Candied Orange Peel

 

Diane Phillips’ Pear Upside Down Cake with Warm Caramel Sauce

Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter (melted)
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar (firmly packed)
  • 2 Medium pears (firm-ripe (about 1 pound))
  • 1 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 2 Large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla paste or vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter (softened)
  • 1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup brown sugar (packed)
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste or vanilla extract

Note

Recipe courtesty of Diane Phillips

Directions

Topping - using first 3 ingredients
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x 2 inch round cake pan with non-stick cooking spray.
2. In a small bowl, stir together the butter and sugar. Pour into the bottom of the prepared pan.
3. Peel, core, and cut the pears lengthwise into 1/4 inch slices.
4. Arrange the pear slices on the bottom of the pan in a circle around the edge, overlapping them slightly, with the pointed ends toward the center.
5. If necessary, cut a little off the pointed ends to make the slices fit better. Or if the pear slices don't reach all the way to the middle, arrange a few shorter slices in the center to cover the bottom of the pan.
Cake
6. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, ginger, cinnamon, and salt into a medium bowl. Stir to combine. In a small bowl, stir together the milk, eggs and vanilla.
7. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.
8. Reduce the speed and add the milk mixture, it will look curdled. Add the flour mixture, and beat until the mixture is smooth, about 2 minutes.
9. Spoon the batter in large dollops over the pears and smooth it into an even layer with an offset spatula. Bake the cake until the top is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer t he pan to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the pan. Turn a cake plate upside down on top of the cake pan and, using pot holders, carefully invert the cake pan onto the plate.
10. Serve the cake warm with vanilla ice cream and/or warm caramel sauce.
Warm Caramel Sauce - using last 4 ingredients
11. In a medium speed saucepan, melt the butter, and add the brown sugar, stir until the sugar is melted.
12. Add the cream, and bring to a boil for 1 minute.
13. The sauce can be cooled, and refrigerated for up to 1 month. Reheat on the stovetop.

Serendipity

ser·en·dip·i·ty/ˌserənˈdipitē/

Noun:
The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way: “a fortunate stroke of serendipity”.

On Wednesday evening I was in my office paging through a book entitled, The Cake Bible (those of you who read my post What’s the Difference: Flour? Part 1 will understand why) when another book on the shelf caught my eye – Four-Star Desserts by Emily Luchetti.  Jeff and I are hosting a dinner party on December 1st; so we’ve been planning the menu and other details.  When I saw Four-Star Desserts, I thought I’d browse through it to see if includes any recipes that would be a welcome addition to the dinner party menu; but what I found was even better than the best dessert for December 1st.

I found a recipe for which I’ve been searching for 5 years or more!  When we still lived in our old house, I made a cake that I really liked and wanted to make it again; but I could not for the life of me remember which cookbook it was from.  And when your cookbook collection numbers over 200, it is difficult to just thumb through them all in search of one recipe.  Every now and again, I am reminded of this cake and I look at a few books hoping to find the recipe – always to no avail and great frustration.  In fact, I’m sure I reach for the same books over and over hoping to be successful in my search. What was that definition of insanity again?

But on Wednesday – when I wasn’t looking for the recipe – it just appeared to me, presented as a gift from the cake gods!  So it must be time to make it again!

This is a great cake to make when you are entertaining people who are watching calories.  Of course, it IS cake; so it isn’t a diet dish.  But it is one of those cakes that you don’t have to say, “just a sliver” when it’s being cut!

The recipe says it can be made several days ahead and stored wrapped in plastic at room temperature, but it was best on the first day.  Fortunately it’s so good I don’t think it will last too long!

Espresso Chocolate Chip Angel Food Cake from Four-Star Desserts by Emily Luchetti

Meal type Dessert

Ingredients

  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
  • 1 1/3 cup cake flour (sifted)
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 3/4 cup egg whites (about 12 large eggs)
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon freshley squeezed lemon joice
  • 3/4 cups chocolate chips (coarsely chopped)

Note

Recipe from the book "Four-Star Desserts" by Emily Luchetti

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Sift together the espresso powder, cake flour, and the salt. Set aside.
3. Put the egg whites into the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium speed until frothy. Add the cream of tartar. Increase to high speed and slowly pour in the sugar. Continue whipping until the whites are stiff but still shiny, about 3 minutes.
4. Reduce to low speed and add the vanilla extract and lemon juice. Add the reserved flour mixture. When the flour mixture is almost completely incorporated, remove the bowl from the machine and fold in the chocolate chips. Make sure that the chocolate chips are spread throughout the batter and that the flour is evenly mixed into the egg whites. Do not overmix.
5. Pour the batter into a prepared pan and cut through it a few times with a dull knife to break up any air pockets.
6. Bake until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes. Invert the cake on a rack and let it cool upside down in the pan.
7. Unmold the cake and slice it with a serrated knife.

Hint: To prevent the chocolate chips from sinking to the bottom of the cake, mix the chocolate chips with 1 Tbsp of the flour before adding them to the batter.

If you make this cake, I hope you look back on finding this post as a serendipitous event!!!  Enjoy!

Grateful

I spent the majority of the afternoon sitting in waiting rooms of doctors’ offices in central PA with Jeff, my husband who is not very good at telling me something is wrong until days after it begins!

Apparently he’s been seeing flashes of light in both eyes for “a few weeks” and has had a shadow on his left eye “for a few days.”  Mind you, he drove home most of the way from North Carolina on Saturday.  Of course, when he called his eye doctor today they wanted him to come in right away…enter me.  Fortunately, I was only a few blocks from his office when he called me to ask for a ride so that he wouldn’t have to drive with dilated pupils.

After the initial exam, the regular eye doctor sent Jeff to a retinal specialist across town.  So we got Jeff into his sunglasses, drove ALL THE WAY OVER THE RIVER, and waited for his next appointment.

Why am I writing about this on my food blog?  Well, as I was passing time in the waiting rooms I was reading a book by a friend of ours.  The book is entitled ‘Never Fall Down’ and was written by Patricia (Patty) McCormick.  The book is based on a true story of a boy in Cambodia in the 1970’s who survived the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge. Over and over the book details the starvation of the children [and adults] in the camps – how they had so little to eat and scrounged for food – eating dirt and bugs and poisonous spiders and plants and, in some instances, the flesh and organs of recently killed humans.

No, I am not suggesting that we start scrounging for our food.  What I want to do is express my gratitude that I DO NOT HAVE TO.  I live in a country of abundance.  Most of the people I know never go hungry, unless it’s due to poor planning on their own part and even then I don’t think most people in America know what HUNGRY really is.

I am so grateful to God for providing for me and the people I know.  He has provided a terrific spouse, the means to make a good living, a beautiful home, wonderfully generous friends, and enough food for us to cook, eat and even entertain!  I feel so incredibly blessed not to have gone through any of the harrowing experiences that the characters in ‘Never Fall Down’ had to endure or unfortunately were unable to endure.  I’ve never wondered where my family is for extended periods of time, how we’ll survive, IF we’ll survive, or if we’ll be safe.

I am embarrassed to live in a culture that is full of people who have it SO good yet complain so much.  I am certainly not blameless when it comes to complaining that I don’t have enough; however when I look at things in a realistic light, I am fully aware of how richly blessed I have been.

I would encourage you, if you too are grateful to NOT know first hand what hungry really is to make a donation to your local food bank.  If you are in central PA, New Hope Ministries and Stop the Violence Ministry are excellent choices, but certainly not the only ones.

I am grateful to Patty for writing this story and for educating me and others about these historic events.  She is such a talented writer of young adult fiction and has met so many fascinating people who share their stories with her and trust her to tell them well.  She does not let them down.  If you get a chance to read this book, I would highly recommend it. One of Patty’s earlier books – Sold – is being made into a movie. In fact, filming began in Nepal just last week.  I haven’t yet had the chance to read that book, but as soon as I take ‘Never Fall Down’ back to the library I will be bringing home ‘Sold.’

The outcome of Jeff’s appointments?  He apparently recently suffered a vitreous hemorrhage in his left eye and shows evidence of one in his right eye from some time ago.  The retinal specialist wants to see him again in three weeks to make sure he has no retinal tearing or detachment as a result of the hemorrhage.  But for now he’s on the mend.

Just one of MANY things for which I am grateful!!!!

No Such Thing As A Little Lie!

As I was pickling some cherry tomatoes early this morning, I got to thinking about the Bible study I began last night with a group of women from my church.  The study is entitled ‘Me, Myself & Lies’ and was written by an inspiringly talented and brave woman named Jennifer Rothschild. There are four women from our church co-leading the study… two of these women I know and have an incredible amount of respect and love for. Two I am looking forward to getting to know better, along with the other members of the group, over the next 13 weeks.

I will do my best to briefly explain the concept here, but please understand these ideas are Jennifer Rothschild’s, not mine – although I suspect and hope that by the end of this study I will have begun to believe her message instead of the lies!

Click here to listen to a little ditty about lies by Dave Barnes.

The focus of the study is the lies we tell ourselves that wound us.  We may have made these lies up ourselves or we may have heard them from others (including Satan or sadly even from people we love) and believed they were true so we started telling them to ourselves.  If you are a woman reading this, you already know what I mean even if you’re not willing to admit it.  [You may know what I mean if you are a man, but I’ve never been a man so I don’t really know for sure].

These lies are things like, “Why did you even try that? You knew you were going to fail.” Or “Don’t bother looking for a bathing suit this season; you’re too fat to look good in one.” Or “You’re not smart enough for that job so don’t even bother applying.” And on and on it goes – where it stops, nobody knows.  And we tell ourselves these things often enough that we start to believe them – I mean really believe them in our souls – and they begin to affect our behavior and even the course of our lives.

Anyway, why am I writing about this on a food blog?  Because I realized this morning over the hot steam of the pickling liquid that perhaps the reason I love cooking and entertaining so much is because I don’t tell myself those destructive lies when I am cooking and entertaining.  I know I am good at these two things.  Please don’t misunderstand me – I am not in any way trying to sound prideful or conceited.  However, I have so much “cooking DNA” in me from generations of amazing cooks and I feel such passion for it that I don’t even question whether I can do it.  If only I could transfer this confidence to other areas of my life and to other areas of yours!

As I looked around the circle of women last night and as I listened to their brief introductions (and mine), I had nothing but compassion for each person in that room. I was uplifted by the notion that I will link arms with these women for a season to bolster one another and to extinguish the lies.

You see, in our culture women can be vicious to other women.  I don’t use the term ‘vicious’ lightly.  I’m not sure where we learn it or when, but somewhere along the line mainstream culture teaches us that it’s ok to say things (even if it’s only in our own heads) like, “Why in the word would she wear that? Doesn’t she own a mirror?” or “If I were in her shoes I’d just leave him” or “If she just disciplined those kids they wouldn’t act like that.”  No wonder we tell ourselves lies!  We say them about others and others say them about us and in our heads the boundaries between truth and lie, acceptable and unacceptable become blurred.

This morning, I am grateful to have a passion into which I can escape.  A place where the lies STOP!  A place where I feel confident and competent.  I encourage you, if you don’t have one, to try so many things that you find that place where you can silence the lies.

And I challenge you to learn to identify the lies you tell yourself so that you change the messages you send in your own head.  And even more, I challenge you to identify those negative things you’re saying (even if only in your head) about others and change them into positive things.  We women have enough challenges in this world (don’t worry men, I’m not about to have a Betty Friedan moment) that we don’t need to put up roadblocks for ourselves and others.  So put your arms around the next woman you see – tell her she’s wonderful and beautiful and that the lies are just that – lies.  Or even better – find a reason to cook for her, eat with her or entertain to serve her!

Click here to learn more about Jennifer Rothschild.

A Treat for All the Senses

This afternoon I was in the basement looking for canning supplies and jars when my self-diagnosed A.D.D. got the best of me, which happens quite often.  I rarely start a task without being distracted by something else….in fact, I think that’s the reason I could never clean my room in less than 2 days when I was a kid!

I was walking around the basement looking at boxes that should have been unpacked by now – seeing as we moved into this house over three years ago – and a box with “Jan College” written on the side caught my eye.  Inside I found something that perhaps I should have considered foreshadowing many years ago….a writing assignment from my English Comp 101 class, the subject of which was cooking!

If you will indulge me, I’ll share this writing entitled ‘A Treat for All the Senses’ from February 20, 1999:

“Cooking is not simply a hobby for me, it is a passion.  I do not just use cookbooks, I pore over them like the lover of literature reads the finest novels.  I have often thought about becoming a professional chef – in fact, the idea of attending the Culinary Institute of America thrills me each Saturday when I watch cooking shows on PBS; but I wonder, if I had to cook, is it likely that I would not want to cook?  I believe the reason I enjoy cooking so much is that this is a relaxing activity that affects all my senses.

The repetition of chopping and stirring helps to relax me.  They are activities that allow me to focus on what I am doing and forget about the problems of the day.  As I write this, I can easily recall the feeling of my arm going methodically in circles or figure-eights around a pan in which onions are sizzling in butter. Some days the sounds of the kitchen are more melodious to me than Vivaldi’s Four Seasons or Pachelbel’s Canon in D.  As I stir the onions, which I know will become the color of sweet caramel, their wonderful aroma wafts up through the air into my expectant nostrils as surely as the scent of the lilacs in spring.  However, this is just the beginning.

As much as I enjoy the actual preparation of the food, the presentation of the meal I have labored over is also important to me.  I do not merely put the food onto the plate; I arrange it as carefully as the artist places paints on canvas.  I pay close attention to the contrast of colors and textures, the arrangements of shapes, the height of the finished product and the placement of the final touch – the garnish.  I know that seeing a well-presented plate delights the eye and gets the mouth watering.  Good presentation is as important as good taste.

In my opinion, cooking does not stop when the food is on the plate.  It also includes the ambiance of the dining room, the music played during dinner, the wine served and the company in which the meal is eaten.  Each of these things, if well planned, can add to the culinary experience.  Generally, when I cook for guests, I use my finest china and linen napkins.  I take great care when setting the table.  I usually use candles and something from nature – whether it be flowers in spring and summer, pine boughs in winter or leaves in autumn – to set the mood.  I play music that is soothing and turn the lights so that people can see their plates, but do not feel as though they are in an interrogation room.  When everything is ready, I serve the dishes I created.

Many people think that taste is the only thing to take into consideration when cooking.  I, on the other hand, believe that cooking affects the senses of sight, smell, hearing, touch and taste – not only of those people who eat the food, but also of those who have prepared it.  Cooking is more than a task to me, it is a delightful experience that allows me to relax and fills up my senses.”

Reading the comments of my long ago professor gives me hope that I can use this blog and my love of food to communicate with people and, in some cases, bring back memories for the reader.  The professor wrote, “You’ve described fine dining.  I miss that a lot from my mother…a lot of good food, a tablecloth, candles.  You are so right.  Your guests are very fortunate.”

As I read over my words, I realize that a few things have changed.  It’s not so important to use my finest china any more – I have aged a bit and understand that sometimes the bumps and dents of everyday life add character that the finest china cannot.  The lights are a little brighter during a meal because Jeff and I don’t see as well as we used to in dim lighting.  And ever since my mom set her napkin on fire during Easter dinner, I am more careful with the candles.

I also realize that some things have not changed….my passion for cooking, eating and entertaining, the joy I get from friends and family around the table, and the way I use food to express love to and serve others.

Welcome!

What an exciting time for me – this is my first blog post – EVER. The purpose of this blog is to share my passion for food. I have included an ‘About Me‘ page and don’t want to bore you with redundancy so I will share a bit more about my history with food that I did not include on that page.

For as long as I can remember I have enjoyed watching cooking shows (way back to the Galloping Gourmet and Julia Child and up through today’s bevy of shows available on the Food Network and other cooking-specific channels).

I read cookbooks as though they are novels – I am not simply looking for recipes, but am learning about the history of the author and his/her relationship with food. I love the commentary and explanation that comes with the recipe almost as much as the recipe itself. And magazines – oh, how I love cooking magazines! In fact, for the last several years on my birthday my husband has awakened me with current editions of some of my favorites – Bon Appétit, Cooking Light, La Cucina Italiana, Food Network Magazine, to name a few – and with a great cup of coffee. He knows I will be completely immersed for hours, but he also knows he will reap what he has sown.

I also get an immense satisfaction from devising a theme and tinkering with the table setting when I entertain, which is now called tablescaping. I’m not sure how I feel about that term – it sounds so industrial to me – but it’s widely used so I’ll go with the flow. I simply like making people feel special when they come to dinner at my table. I enjoy using different dishes and linens I have collected over time, cutting flowers and herbs from my yard to use as centerpieces, and/or arranging a buffet with height, color and texture. I enjoy the process of making little cards in different shapes, colors and sizes that announce each dish.  I often spend as much time on decorating the table as I do on the menu and food. Serving others in this way fills my spirit!

I hope you will check back with me often to see how my blog is growing and changing.  I welcome your feedback – it will help me get to know you better and share my passion with you!