Feeding a Child

When my daughter was small, I got into a conversation with a co-worker who was complaining about his kids always wanting to eat at McDonald’s. When I told him my daughter did often want to go out for dinner, but her preference was for a nearby Vietnamese restaurant he asked how I had managed that. She didn’t ask to go to McDonald’s, or any other similar places because she never went. I feel pretty fortunate that my daughter has never been a picky eater; I know plenty of parents who offer their children all kinds of wonderful and wholesome choices, only to be met with a flat our refusal to eat anything but ______, you fill in the blank. But I do know, if you don’t take your child to McDonald’s chances are they won’t ask to go there.

Feeding children is a big responsibility. It makes me crazy when I see babies holding baby bottles filled with soda! They watch us, they see what we do, and even if we mistreat them, they still look to us to see how to behave; what it means to be an adult. There is a great song from the musical “Into the Woods” called “Children Will Listen” and the refrain is “Careful the things you say, children will listen. Children may not obey, but children will listen”. I want my daughter to see me for who I truly am, and at the same time I want to model the best behavior I can manage. Sometimes I manage better than others, and it’s OK that she sees that too.

I would love to be the mom who is in great shape, who goes to the gym every day, and looks twenty years younger than she is…but I do not want to be the mom who tells her pudgy five year old that she needs to go on a diet! I try not to dwell too much on how much my daughter eats. She is extremely active, and gets hungry. When she is hungry she eats, as she should. She loves sweets- especially chocolate, and I think the worst thing I could do is to deprive her of them, I think having them available means she knows they are there, and so there is no anxiety for her about wanting a treat.

Feeding children is about more than food though. We feed them ideas, a sense of purpose, a love for art or music or nature, we show them everyday what is important to us, and how we want them to face the world. I do not want to pass all my issues with food down to my daughter. I want to instill in her a fine and discerning palate; an appreciation for diverse food cultures, an understanding of cooking that will enable her to feed herself and her family, I want her to love food, and so far things seem to be working out. I hope as she goes through her teenage years she does not succumb to the pressures of being overly self-critical, and constant dieting.

When I look at pictures of myself in my early twenties, I see a lovely young woman, maybe a bit more curvy than was fashionable, though I had already spent years thinking of myself as fat and ugly. I couldn’t see myself clearly, and I often wonder if I had, perhaps I wouldn’t have spent so many years battling with myself, my body, and punishing myself by either over-eating or denying myself food. I don’t think it’s too late for me, and I know I don’t want this for my daughter, or anyone else’s either!

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I Promise to Eat More Fruits and Vegetables!


When first read The China Study by T. Colin Campbell one of the things I took away was the idea that rather than try to remove things from your diet, you add more and more plant based food, which will leave less and less room for animal products. A friend of mine has recently lost a lot of weight, and she looks great! The plan she was on seemed a bit strict, and I admire her for sticking with it, and for her success. One of the things she told me was part of the plan, and which echoes what Campbell says, is that she eats ten cups of fruit and vegetables a day.

Ten cups is a lot of produce! I eat a salad most days for lunch. In it I put 1/2 a box of salad greens which is only about 2 cups, to that I add a variety of things including tomatoes, artichoke heats, and cucumber I add other things, but those are the main vegetable components. All told I have a fairly large bowl of salad that is only about 3 cups of vegetables. Ten cups is more than ten servings, so maybe I will start with servings, and work my way up to cups. To get to ten I will have 1 1/2 cups of fruit at breakfast- which I get when I drink my smoothie, to my lunch salad I’ll add another 1/2 cup which will bring me up to five, then I need another five servings. For a snack, perhaps an apple or peach which is two servings and for dinner another salad, or a cup and a half of cooked vegetables.

According to an article in the Huffington Post Americans as a group don’t even come close to eating the USDA recommended 5 servings per day… Vegetables take time, and preparation. If you don’t cook them well they can taste bad, and if you grew up eating canned, frozen, or overcooked vegetables, you probably think you don’t like them. What I found after years of working at Whole Foods Market is that people have become so disconnected from where and how vegetables grow, that they become indignant when for instance, they can’t get local organic strawberries in November!

I like vegetables, at least most of them. I am not a fan of raw celery, peppers, cooked or raw, or turnips and rutabagas no matter how they are prepared, but I’ll eat pretty much anything else. That said, I still don’t consume close to ten servings, but I think it’s time I make that commitment. Summer is the perfect time of year to do this, and I am as ready as I’ll ever be. I will eat kale, and spinach, cauliflower and broccoli, carrots, green beans, cabbage, zucchini, tomatoes, eggplant, leafy lettuce, and though some people say bad things about corn, I love summer corn, so I will look for organic corn, and of course all those juicy, delectable stone fruits!

I promise not to get righteous, and prideful as I dutifully consume all these micronutrients. I will not always manage to get to ten, and for that I hope you will forgive me! I will eat them raw, and will grill, sauté, and roast them, I will not cover them in heavy cream which I have reduced with a few cloves of garlic and some truffle salt or saffron… probably. I will make sure they are delicious, and I will report my successes. Since I am not on a diet, I will eat my sweet, fresh summer corn with butter, and with no apologies!

I am off to the market today with a long list of produce, and some other things, as I am completely out of food, except for a little bit of chicken soup left from Tuesday. (I’m still not over my cold, but I’m working on it.)

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Cooking for My Mother


Growing up I thought my mom was the best cook in the world, and she instilled in me my love of food. For my parents’ first anniversary they were given a copy of The Underground Gourmet, and in the late 60’s and early 70’s we ate our way through NYC’s interesting, exotic and ethnic restaurants. In the theater district we walked up flights of rickety stairs to eat Argentine or Greek food, we had fruit soup at Nyborg Nelson, and I had my first paella (and sangria) at age 14 at El Faro in Greenwich village. Though this may not seem noteworthy now, in the global world we inhabit, in 1972 this was pretty edgy stuff!

I cooked all through high school, making dinner for the family when my mom went back to work, and spending the weekends making all kinds of soups, and experimenting with bread baking with my friend Laura. In my junior year of college I moved from my dorm into an apartment with two friends, and resumed cooking. Though we started out taking turns cooking, eventually my roommates preferred when I cooked, and I preferred never having to wash dishes. With my love of all kinds of ethnic food I started collecting cookbooks, and we had lots of dinner parties. One Christmas I guess my sisters were otherwise occupied, so my parents and brother came to my apartment for dinner. As I made the elaborate meal, I recall vividly, a moment when it occurred to me that I had become a better cook than my mom. Wow, I had to sit down, I wasn’t prepared for this.

Over the years my parents stuck with me through all kinds of phases of my life, but I think they were relieved when I decided to go to culinary school. By this time my parents had a bed and breakfast in the Berkshires, and Mom and I would talk about recipes, and breakfast ideas, and when I would visit I’d show her some of the tricks I’d learned at school, and make suggestions about tweaking recipes. I would often cook for my parents when I visited them- they had a spacious kitchen, and Giudo’s nearby, and would send me off to shop with their credit card!

In the last year of her life, my mother who had been valiantly battling cancer for ten years started to fade. Without detailing all she endured, she was losing much of what had given her joy throughout her life, including food. I would visit, and try to tempt her with foods I thought she could eat easily. I would make her soups and pasta dishes and bring her ice cream as she could only manage soft food. In late March of that year I was visiting her on my birthday. We had talked about going out, but she was just too tired, so I said I’d make my birthday dinner and we would stay home. This was not the first time I’d opted to make my own birthday dinner, if I cook I make exactly what I want, made exactly how I want it, and I know it will taste the way I want it to. My mom’s birthday was only 11 days after mine, so this would be a double celebration (so there would be chocolate for her).

I decided on spaghetti carbonara, a dish we both loved. When at eighteen I was leaving with two friends on a trip through Europe, my mother’s parting words to me weren’t cautionary, rather she told me to eat the spaghetti carbonara in Rome, which I did multiple times. In Italy they use guancialle in the carbonara, which until very recently had been very hard to come by in the U.S. It is the cured cheek of the pig, peppery without being too spicy. On this occasion I wasn’t able to get guancialle, but I did get a very good quality, thick sliced bacon. Spaghetti Carbonara is a simple, but not easy dish to get right. What you do is crisp the pork, then cook onions in the rendered fat, cook the pasta, then toss it with eggs, parmesan cheese, the bacon, onion and the fat from the pan. (For the record I say most emphatically, that no matter what many restaurants offer, spaghetti carbonara is pasta with bacon and eggs, not cream sauce!)

Though she didn’t eat a lot, my mother seemed to enjoy the pasta, and we were able to have a really nice meal together, which had become a rare and special event. She even ate some of the tiny chocolate cake I had gotten for her. She lived a few more months, slowly fading away as the exhaustion of fighting her cancer finally got the best of her. It was the last proper meal I ever made for her.

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Chicken Soup on a Super Hot Day

chicken soup 032
I feel lousy today. After a weekend of fun, and riding the subways of NYC I guess I picked up some bug. It is a steamy day here, not really a day you’d want soup, but when I feel like this, pretty much the only thing I want is chicken soup, and so I dragged my sorry ass out to the store to get my ingredients. I have a pressure cooker, and I use it mainly to make soup. I’ve found that the flavor you can extract from the ingredients is so much more intense when cooked under pressure, and you can have it in about twenty minutes!

My go to remedies when I feel lousy are (in no special order) chicken soup, hot and sour soup, and mushroom-barley soup. As you can see soup is the theme here. Making hot and sour, and mushroom-barley take too long and require too many ingredients for the moment, so chicken soup it is. As a child when I got sick my mom made me Campbell’s chicken noodle soup, or sometimes even Progresso’s Chickarina, I don’t recall her ever making me chicken soup, though sometimes when more than one of us got sick at once she made egg custard which she cooked perfectly, and was definitely palliative, if not the best nutritional option (all that dairy).

Soup is one of the things I think I am best at. At one time I worked at Tiffany and Co. at the Fifth Avenue store. I was the chef-manager of the employee café (which means that the place was too small to be budgeted for a chef and a manager, so one person filled both roles). I love working there; the people were incredibly kind and hospitable. I was not a direct employee of Tiffany’s, but was a contract worker. They treated me and my staff like family. I have found that how people treat the ‘kitchen help’ is a pretty good indicator of their character in general. During my tenure with Tiffany’s Jerry Seinfeld was making The Soup Nazi famous, and many of the folks at Tiffany’s walked over to the Soup Kitchen for lunch daily, though many stopped going, saying my soup was just as good, which was music to my ears.

So now my soup is done, I have had a bowl, more or less cleaned up, and need to go nap; I am exhausted!

Get Well Quick Chicken Soup

Get Well Quick Chicken Soup

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My Body #1

marilyn of willendorf

I have given this post a number because I anticipate there will be future posts about my body, so this number system will serve as a sub-chronicle.

I have all kinds of memories about my body and how I feel about it. When I was born, fat babies were considered healthy and I was a nice fat baby. I hear they called me Butterball, but mercifully that name didn’t stick with me into toddlerhood. I was a fairly average toddler/little girl. I look at photos of myself wearing the requisite Danskin outfits, my head tilted at a coquettish angle, and a pleased smile on my face. I believe I was a happy child, I was talkative, outgoing, and curious. I don’t recall thinking much about my body other than at times when I was sick, or had hurt myself, which I did with some frequency as we lived in an apartment, and I ran around like a lunatic. I once ran into a wall with a plastic horn in my mouth, and could eat nothing but plain noodles and broth for a week… I ran into a number of things both indoors and out; I have since refined my skills of looking where I am going.

I hear from all manner of television personalities, radio talk show hosts and guests, newspaper and magazine articles etc. that it is important for me to love my body. But I’m not sure I’m prepared to commit. There are many things about my body that I greatly appreciate, and value. I have a good mind, pretty good skin (for someone my age…) nice hair, I am reasonably healthy, and take no medications- which apparently is quite a feat- a few years ago while at a dr.’s visit they asked me what medications I was taking. Not if I took any, but which ones I took. The woman taking my info seemed surprised when I said none, and when I asked why, she said the average is one per decade. I love America!

So in general my body does what I need it to do. It gets me where I want to go, keeps track of how I got there and how to get home, allows me to see and hear what is going on around me, and to sit, stand, reach and bend. Mechanically I don’t really have much to complain about, but I do wish I was prettier, thinner, faster, more graceful, and preferred salad to lobster mac and cheese… I try to look at myself objectively, but I don’t think that’s possible- for anyone. We all look in the mirror and see the actual flaws we have, magnified about a thousand times, in addition to the phantom flaws we see, but are invisible to everyone else.

My body has been much better to me than I have to it. In addition to eating too much, and exercising too little, I have exposed it to the sun without sunscreen, banged it around on numerous occasions, fallen off my bike, had many jobs that involved standing for long periods of time, was a potter for many years leaving me with hands that often ache, and gone to too many loud concerts, just for a few examples. Each year I swear I will treat my body- myself better, and each year I let us down. As we all know, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” (Now I don’t think I am going to hell, in fact I believe if there is a hell, it is for people way more reprehensible and cruel than the likes of me.) But my good intentions aren’t good enough.

Mindfulness is key. I hear about it, read about it, talk about it, and in fact, am working on practicing it. Mindfulness, for me means paying attention to what I do, and listening to my instincts, my body. This means thinking before I jam that donut into my mouth, and don’t even taste it, as well as acknowledging that though I like creamy cheeses and pate better than salad or broccoli (and who doesn’t?) I can’t and don’t even want to live on a strict diet of appetizers and hors d’oeuvres, nor I am willing to give them up entirely. My body (and I) deserve better.

There are so many things that impact and influence the people we are, and the choices we make, as well as the impulses we act on. None of us grows up in a bubble; we are an amalgam of millions of bits of external input, combined with our genetic predispositions and gifts. As Popeye so eloquently stated I am who I am. So inside and out, this is what I have to work with, and so I do.

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Semi-Constant Craving

fried chicken

Most people have a preference for sweet or salty, soft or crispy, mild or spicy.  I love salty and crunchy and I really love fried chicken.  Shortly after I moved into the house I live in now, the city, and especially my neighborhood was buzzing about a new fried chicken spot that was going to open right around the corner from me. I was worried that my love of fried chicken, coupled with the proximity of this new place would be the end of me (if not literally, certainly figuratively). The place is about 100 steps from my house- I was surely doomed.

On opening day I walked around the corner with a friend only to find they were out of chicken. Well, we’d go back another time. After a few more attempts, all of which found them sold out, I was able to arrive in time to get some of this now legendary chicken. Though it was difficult to do it, I managed to wait until I got home to break open the box and dive in. Hmmm, well yes, it was crispy, and definitely salty- in fact, a little too salty, and, honestly, disappointing. They’re new, and everyone on Yelp, in the reviews, and around the neighborhood was raving about this chicken so I tried it a few more times, and I have to say, I just don’t get it. No matter how many raves, stars and accolades they get, this chicken is not what I’m looking for. Though this has not stopped me from craving fried chicken, it has forestalled my demise.

My big question is what is the root of these cravings? I am not talking about some general craving, for something sweet, or crunchy, what I want to know is why (and maybe it’s just me, but I doubt it) do I crave very specific items. I can be sitting in my house, reading, or writing, and pretty much minding my own business, when suddenly I will want the beignets I had at Lucie’s Creole Café in Denver, or the red cabbage calzone with mushroom sauce I used to eat when I was in culinary school at La Parmigiana in Rhinebeck, NY (they may sound strange, but trust me, these calzones were one of the best things I have ever eaten, and sadly La Parmigaina no longer exists). I will actually have a sensory experience of the spaghetti carbonara I ate in Rome, and have to have it, though no matter how many times I’ve tried I have yet to find anything that even comes close to Italian carbonara here in the States. (I will spare you my usual rant about restaurants that serve an alfredo sauce with bacon and call it carbonara- those shoemakers!!)

Maybe what I am really craving is the experience I had while eating these things. I had those beignets on an amazing trip through the Denver area with some awesome friends from Whole Foods Market, Culinary school was was of the most fun times of my life, and maybe those moments are what underlies these very specific cravings. Sadly, I can no more recreate those experiences, than I can those dishes (though I do make a pretty good beignet when my daughter can cajole me into making something that makes such a giant mess). Maybe I am disappointed by my local fried chicken spot because the chicken doesn’t taste like the fried chicken I used to eat at the Pink Teacup on Bleeker St. when I was in college, which is my benchmark fried chicken.

Sometimes I can satisfy a craving and sometimes it just can’t be done. I can recreate many dishes at home, and I believe I can cook almost anything, though I am still working on perfecting my fried chicken, and I’m not even sure where to start with those calzones… As humans we crave all kinds of things from Nathan’s French fries to affection. Sometimes we’re satisfied, and our needs get met, and sometimes they don’t. I’m working towards finding a better way to acknowledge and redirect those noisy cravings, and accept not getting everything I want.

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Truffle Salt


I love all kinds of food stores, from tiny specialty tea or cheese shops to the supermarkets and grocery stores I visit whenever I travel. I love their weird and delicious smells, their endless jars of toppings, seasonings, oils, and exotic sweets, candies and cookies. Even browsing the dried and fresh noodle aisles at the local Asian markets makes me heady with possibility. One of the places I love to go when I am in NYC is the Chelsea Market, and the last time I was there I found a new (to me) shop called The Filling Station where they sell all manner of flavored oils, vinegars, salts, and beers. I had taken the Bolt Bus, and so was not inclined to lug home anything too heavy or bulky, but the 2 oz. jars of salt fit right into the side pockets of my bag.

At The Filling Station you can taste everything, and I was seduced at once by the black truffle salt. I was with my notoriously thrifty brother who was appalled that I would pay $11.00 for salt, but it was well worth it. I use it sparingly, and it has lasted me more than a year. I will be going to NYC soon, and will probably get some of their other flavors like saffron, and maybe some rosemary salt. I tried the green tea salt, as I love green tea as both a flavor and a scent, but the salt’s flavor is so delicate almost anything overpowers it, and the flavor gets lost. I also bought the bacon sea salt for a friend, but it wasn’t quite as exciting as I had hoped.

It is the truffle salt I must talk about! It has the musky unmistakable aroma of black truffles, that is deep and dark, you can taste it before it even hits your tongue. I hope you will not think less of me when I tell you the first thing I used it for was popcorn. I love popcorn, it is one of my favorite movie night treats, and I take it pretty seriously. I have a movie theater crank style popcorn popper. I got it about twenty years ago at a church bazaar in West Stockbridge, MA. My Mom and I were driving past, and on a whim decided to stop and check it out. I found a brand new, still in the box, Brookstone popcorn popper for $.75, one of the best deals ever, which is why I had to add this story. But, back to the truffle salt. I get organic (non-GMO) popcorn, and use safflower oil to pop it. For this event I decided to use butter (unsalted) to add richness, and to help the salt stick. I sprinkled on the truffle salt, and was transported. If I used this salt on nothing else but popcorn it would be well worth it, and I have to give a shout out to my daughter who at only twelve was equally intoxicated by it.

I use this salt wherever I can. It does wonders for baked potatoes, scrambled eggs, and does wondrous things to anything with mushrooms! I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture. What I love most about it is I can add tons of flavor and depth with a pinch of salt. Indulgences come in many forms. Finding something that can add intense flavor doesn’t happen too often. Many people rely on hot sauce to add intensity, but I don’t like super-spicy food. Flavors like truffle and saffron are more appealing to my palate. So I continue to shop the world’s markets looking for culinary treasures.

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