Tuesday December 15, 2015
Do you think your family is dysfunctional?
Do you have crazy siblings, parents or relatives?
Do you feel sad, thinking that other people have normal families, especially during the holidays?
I want to set the record straight. Heirloom Meals is not about perfect. It’s about memories and food and how those memories connect us to our past and are a bridge to our future. And how our food memories have shaped us.
Family is my true north but it is by no means perfect. In fact, my family has ugly warts everywhere. And believe me you, I have fantasized about having a Donna Reed family - one that joyfully gathers, plays touch football at Thanksgiving, and is fully functional, communicative, non-judgemental and loving.
Hollywood and Madison Avenue have penetrated my psyche. They sell a perfect version of perfection. Many of us (me) have used this perfection standard as a role model from which to measure our families.
I am guilty of wishing I belonged to a different family at times. Afterall, I grew up in a three-generation Italian-American household with the extended family that looked like it was out of central casting for the Sopranos. Growing up in Pelham, NY which at the time was predominantly WASP and Irish Catholic, I longed for what I imagined my friends were experiencing. Perhaps that football game. Or even roast beef with yorkshire pudding.
Fortunately we grow up. And we develop the perspective to appreciate and love all the things that were cringe-worthy as kids. I believe all families are quirky and deal with drama in one form or another, have screwball relatives, and experience bad behavior. Let’s get over it already!
With all their flaws, odd habits, political biases, quirky behaviours - they are my family. Part of my unique fabric. I don’t even like some of them. But there is something in me - a deep-seated love, a common bond, DNA - whatever - that calls me home to that familiar dysfunction - to the faces that carry vestiges of my ancestors, to the beings who I shared most of my meals with for the first 18 years of my life. There among the chaos is a sort of peace, a comfort. An unspoken truth. My roots.
As I excavated the recipes and memories of family meals and recipes, I began to understand who I am, where I came from and gained a deeper sense of belonging. So my plan is to show up at family holidays with love and joy in my heart, accept the behaviours that I cannot change, and not crave Donna Reed’s family. That’s my goal. I will bring joy, not judgement. And honor everyone’s warts!
May you too find a way to love and cherish your perfectly imperfect family.
PS If you want to excavate those family recipes and discover how the process of connecting to your past really heals you, please consider joining the next Heirloom Meals Recipe Project Workshop.
Saturday December 12, 2015
Harvest to Heat: Cooking with America's Best Chefs, Farmers, and Artisans
Even before the title page, Harvest to Heat sends us immediately into a world of fresh produce and gorgeous culinary offerings. An array of violet-hued eggplants, plums, and flowers is spread across a two-page spread, prefacing the beautiful images and thoughtful recipes which follow. In the book, chefs, farmers, and artisans come together in sharing their philosophies on what it means to buy, cook, and consume locally.
The first recipe, Blue Cheese Tartine, showcases the Bayley Hazen blue cheese from Jasper Hill Farm in Greensboro, Vermont. Though the name sounds fancy, the headnote reassures you that tartine simply means an open-faced sandwich. Toasting thick slices of rustic sourdough bread brushed with a little olive oil and allowing a sprinkling of the cheese to melt on top, makes the perfect base for crispy slabs of bacon and a sweet hit of wildflower honey. It is a composition perfect for breakfast or an easy-to-assemble lunch. Simply made, simply delicious.
The Crème Fraîche Galette with Heirloom Tomatoes continues upon the theme of country-style French cooking. A galette makes a beautiful free-form base for a stunning array of tomatoes in every color. A combination of the tangy crème fraîche and the well-developed but not overpowering bite of Manchego sits beneath the tomatoes, creating a creamy consistency when emerging from the oven in its melted glory.
I skim through the dessert section, finally settling in upon the Chocolate Pots de Crème. This has always been one of my favorite desserts for its creamy texture and rich bite. Diving your spoon into a jar or ramekin containing the perfectly-set mixture is a small pleasure that is invariably satisfying. The recipe provides a balance of flavors between the heat of fresh ginger and the sweetness of chocolate. This intensity makes for the limited use of sugar -- an ideal result.
In the foreward, Alice Waters describes the mission she built her restaurant, Chez Panisse, around. She began with a goal of bringing the culinary aspects of France to California, those which exposed her senses to a new way of eating. However, it grew into a passion for knowing the farmer, their story and the story of their food. She applauds Harvest to Heat for sharing this purpose, for wanting to connect the consumers to producers in a bond sealed by the seduction of simple, well-made food.
This book is a nod to the future of American cooking, one where we care not so much for the immediacy and accessibility of our meals, but for the careful development of their history from plant to plate.
Monday December 07, 2015
Memories are tiggered when you least expect them. Saturday night we were invited to join some friends for a Christmas Carol sing-along. Admittedly, even though I said yes, I was on the fence.
We arrived to a postcard scene of merry singers - decked out in Santa hats and other such festive-wear. Some held LED-lit candles or even real candles. I immediately let go of my resistence to enjoy this and began to sing. Guess what? Singing brought me joy. Plain and Simple.
Then, in a flash I was transported to Pelham Manor, NY, circa 1975. I was having a "Come Carol with Carole" party. I hadn’t thought about those parties in a very long time; but I recalled, in that instant on Saturday night, how much I love Christmas, love to sing, and love to spread joy and happiness. The party was simple: Mom and I invited friends to join me while we spread Christmas cheer around the neighborhood. We rang people's doorbells (and people were not afraid to open the door) and began to sing. I remember being giddy and skipping down the street, arm in arm with my pals. So full of joy. When we were done, we convened at our house for homemade pizza and desserts. I see so clearly how the table was set, how my friends’ cheeks were rosy and healthy, and how we all devoured the Christmas cookies and hot chocolate.
What could be better than cookies and carols?
So please join me and belt out those Christmas Carols! But promise me you won’t just sing the words, you’ll think of their meaning (Each of these lyric snippets opened my heart and soul on Saturday night.):
“Say hello to friends you know and everyone you meet”
“Pray for peace, people everywhere”
“Joy to the world”
“What fun it is to laugh and sing”
With a song in your heart and cookies in your belly, I invite you to spread the joy of the season.
And from me to you, my favorite cookie recipes from the heart of my family recipe box.
Our Sugar Cookies Recipe
My Mom’s cream puffs
PS If this story resonates with you...I would love to take you on the journey of tapping into your food memories. The Heirloom Meals Recipe Project is designed to bring you back to the spirit, essence, and love that came out of the kitchen of your family, from yesterday through present day.
Saturday December 05, 2015
Looking for a great Holiday Gift?? Give the gift of LEGACY. Enroll your mom, family, or relatives in the Heirloom Meals Recipe Project.
HEIRLOOM MEALS CHRISTMAS RECIPES
Thank you for watching the Heirloom Meals PBS Christmas Special. Here are all the links to the recipes from the show:
Scott Keough's Egg Nog
Anne Maxfield's Lollipops
Darlene Tenes' Tamales
Helga Kaiser's Christmas Goose
Charity Kahn's Super Duper Turkey Dressing
Katja Rowell's German Red Cabbage
Alex Elman's Granny Stella's Plum Pudding
Elle Green's Sweet Potato Cake
Anne Marie DeFeest's Hungarian Kifli
Jo Murko's Chocolate-Dipped Cherry Almond Biscotti
Saturday December 05, 2015
The School of Essential Ingredients
The School of Essential Ingredients has no recipes. What you’ll find instead is a story of eight individuals, separate in their own stories before quickly coming together as they congregate in Lillian’s restaurant for cooking class. Each has their own chapter, a narrative that gives the background of their lives before entering the school. The characters intertwine their idiosyncrasies, mixing together just as the ingredients come to form a homemade pasta or biscotti to end a non-traditional Thanksgiving feast. I still consider it a cookbook though, as it promotes how I believe food should be taught. The reader isn’t given a clear-cut formula for specific ingredients but rather a way of understanding how food connects to every facet of our lives.
Erica Bauermeister gives a tender, affectionate voice to each of her characters, using the progression of their growing familiarity with food and with one another. As we get further into the book, it becomes obvious though that the class and Lillian’s instruction goes beyond taste and texture alone. The therapeutic stirring of ingredients works to heal the once-broken hearts and the isolated souls looking for a companion. My favorite line comes near the end, as one student reflects upon all they have each gathered over the class’ duration and all they still have left to learn: “Watching the other members of the class, he found himself wondering where they had come from, what it was they brought with them, as if they, too, were recipes he might come to understand.”
The School of Essential Ingredients asks its readers to give themselves over to the curative effects of food and to allow their palates be their guide. It’s a non-cookbook making the argument that if you follow your intuition and respond to food’s subtle suggestions, you may never need a recipe again.
Sunday November 29, 2015
With Black Friday and Cyber Monday encouraging us to buy a myriad of things from shoes and cashmere sweaters to household items, I sit and wonder, do we really need all this stuff?
I’ll confess, I have amassed my fair share of stuff. I am a clothes horse for sure; I love trinkets, fine china and vintage collectibles. Oh and shoes!!!
Last summer, I helped my parents move which provided the impetus for a massive decluttering project. My stuff was clogging up the works! I needed to take stock. I donated bags and bags and bags of clothing, shoes, trinkets and redundant kitchen items to local charities. And boy did it feel good!!
What I began to realize that life isn’t about stuff, it is about moments!
Moments around food and family.
As you know, it has become my life’s work to chronicle such moments. In a recent NY Times article by Kim Severson, titled “A Mother’s Cookbook Shares More than Recipes,” Kim expresses, “The worn pages of a cookbook have a unique ability to drill into a place where food memory mixes with love and loss.” Oh, how true that is.
As I hold my Nana’s worn recipe notes, her handwriting alone brings me to my childhood kitchen. Who knew Nana’ recipe box and bags stuffed with magazine and newspaper clippings would become my most treasured possessions. These pages, as Kim Severson so aptly reminded me, bring me love, a pang of nostalgia and rich memories.
So as I whittle my stuff down to what matters and try to become less of a victim of Madison Avenue, I find myself thinking of a Dr. Suess Quote:
“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment, until it becomes a memory.”
Our memories are our heirlooms, forever. May you enter the holiday season open to turning moments into memories, especially in the kitchen.
Registration for the January 11th start of the Heirloom Meals Recipe Project is OPEN!!
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