Archive for the 'food' Category

The perfect meal

September 13, 2016
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A french farm-to-table setting

Many, many years ago, I worked as a bartender on a US and Danish air force base in Greenland–miles away from civilization and one very long treacherous dog sled ride to the nearest Inuit village. Food was functional and almost always thawed. In fact, most foods were brought in on US cargo jets either canned or frozen. There were three restaurants and a chow hall on the base, and the one constant you found on all four menus, for breakfast, lunch and dinner was pork. Pork chops, pork and beans, pork patties, pork bellies, pork sausage, pork meatballs, pork roast…you get the point. The reason for pork wasn’t so much that the Danish love it, or the Americans for that matter, but rather, it freezes better and longer than any other meat, and when you’re shipping rations to the arctic you need something that will last…and last and last and last. And so,  along with 300 other US servicemen and a few civilian employees like myself, I ate so much pork that when I returned home, I swore it off for the rest of my life (OK, save the occasional slice of sausage pizza).

This got me thinking of how impossible it would have been to have a good meal, let alone a perfect meal in that setting. Greenland was remote. And frozen. And lonely. And aside from the extremely rare arctic hare or caribou that was served fresh from the kill, it was slim pickings. Your choice was reheated pork and canned somethingorother. The sad truth is, the same can be said for a huge swath of America, despite our access to better quality, fresh ingredients. It’s so hard to create a meal (and I mean, a real meal) from shoddy, conventional, factory farmed and frozen food stuff, let alone fake food. Do you realize that over half the “cooking” that people think they do includes some form of processed or pre-packaged food (let me open this box of instant potatoes and add water)? And according to a Forbes article, while our obesity rates soar, we spend less time eating and less time cooking than other nations.(1)

You see, I’d been reading Michael Pollan‘s  NYT best-selling “In Defense of Food.” And I was preoccupied by the way we eat. On the one hand, I was horrified that some consider a microwaveable Lean Cuisine to be a healthy meal. On the other, I was intrigued by the simplicity of Pollan’s underlying message: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. But more than this simple message were his “rules” for eating–rules that could bring us back from the wasteland of processed and fake foods we’ve created for ourselves out of convenience, but that have actually removed us from a more real experience of eating. So, what were his rules? They were practical and straightforward things like: “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food,” “Eat at a table,” “Eat slowly,” and of course, “Try not to eat alone” (and a few more).

I figured, if I could achieve as many of these things in one meal, I could essentially create the perfect meal.

And so,  one afternoon,  it began like this: I called my new neighbor and said, “Let’s get together and eat.” I wanted to eat with friends. Doug and I typically don’t do that. We eat with family, which is great. But I wanted to branch out. I also wanted to eat with people who deeply appreciate food like my Italian-American family. That’s hard to find. Most of my American friends get more excited over a craft beer than a fig with feta. I knew that the Lombardos–our new neighbors– would definitely appreciate good food. After all, they own and operate a high-end, award-winning Italian restaurant  in Collingwood. So, as Marisa and I talked about it, we figured let’s just go out. This way, no one would have to cook or clean up. Right?

Wrong.

Nonsense, said her husband. I’ll cook. 

A chef, cooking in my kitchen!? Two thoughts: Lord, what did I do to deserve such luck! And, Lord, help me if I have to prepare food to impress a chef and his family.  As with most gatherings among friends, it’s the collective responsibility of the group to bring a dish. What the hell could I bring? I didn’t feel as though I was up to the task. Sure I know my way around a kitchen. But I’ll never win any awards. What’s more, Shepherd’s pie doesn’t exactly shout “gourmet” or “perfect.” Suddenly, I felt performance anxiety.  I felt as though my “perfect meal” could potentially turn into a perfect disaster.

But that didn’t happen.

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Marisa Lombardo, owner of The Artemisian

Try Not to Eat Alone As with all perfect meals, preparation actually begins well in advance. In this case, it began a year prior, when our new neighbors moved across the lake from us. Doug and I would sit out on our back porch, or on the dock, overlooking the lake, lazily watching contractors come and go over the many months it took to renovate the house that faced our backyard. Until one day, in late spring, the new owners finally moved in.  And before I could wrap a bow around a bottle of Spanish Rioja and deliver it to their doorstep, I received a called from Marisa, a total stranger to me at the time, asking if I wanted to join her and a few others for a yoga session on her dock.  Although the yoga never happened–at least not then– that very night she and I and Doug were sipping top shelf whiskey in my kitchen telling our life stories. This was not going to be any average neighbor. And as I secretly rejoiced in that fact, I simultaneously recognized that I was experiencing one of those rare coup de foudre moments that can only be explained by the alignment of stars, or more realistically, shared commonalities between a group of people who hit it off.

The yoga and whiskey were just the beginning. There were impromptu lunches and bike outings with kids; stop ins to bitch about gluten intolerances or work frustrations; recipe sharing, art outings, and one rather successful attempt on her part to teach me how to make real Italian espresso in a macchinetta. And when her husband and Doug were thrown into the mix, talk expanded to travel, motorcycles, grills and how to build an outdoor shower. And thus, the first ingredient in the perfect meal hadn’t exactly been found or bought, rather created from scratch: friendship.

Adding a few others to join in the “perfect meal” was essential too. Jan, Doug’s sister, who is a class or two away from becoming a sommelier is a definite foodie and a regular at all our gatherings. She offered to bring wines that perfectly paired with our meal. Who else would know what goes so well with oysters, pork and pasta but Jan? And Marisa’s and Franco’s long time friends, Juan and Lisa were a must too. I met Juan, who is Spanish, and Lisa, whose family runs a Spanish Imports business, at one of the Lombardo’s parties and we hit it off instantly. The Spanish connection could not be denied (on her annual trip to Spain with her parents when she was 14, Lisa ending up meeting Juan. It was love at first sight and they were married at 19. For those of you who don’t know, my first husband was also a Spaniard. We both have two boys around the same age, and we both love all things Spanish). It’s no wonder they compare friends to food when they say friendship is the spice of life.

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Franco Lombardo, owner of Sapori Restaurant, and his daughter

Eat at a Table After some discussion of the menu, we decided to leave the main course to Franco. Wheph. And so, I was off the hook and didn’t have to offer up my crock-pot American Chop Suey.  My marching orders were simple: set the table, make dessert. Easy. I could handle that. In fact, desserts are my speciality. When I was young I spent hours with my grandmother, who was a Pennsylvania Dutch baker, helping her make apple pies, apple dumplings, shoofly pies and funnel cakes in her tiny kitchen in Ambler, PA. We’d load up her stationwagon early in the morning and haul all that goodness down to Union St. in Medford where she and my dad’s second wife Jenifer ran a little bakery called The Upper Crust. Whipping up a fruit tart with a buttery flaky crust was in my genes. And because it was summer, peaches and blueberries were still relatively easy to find at a NJ Farmer’s Market.

Setting a table was also something I divinely enjoyed. There is an art to it, as well as a tradition. The colors, the fabric, the centerpiece, the dishes…I wanted them all to reflect a French provincial farm-to-table feel that was at once elegant and understated. I’d choose a basic blue and white linen tablecloth, blue and white plastic (yes, plastic!) plates on top grainy, dark wood chargers from Sur la Table and a bouquet of wild flowers. On subsequent dinner parties I stole Marisa’s idea of cutting a few sprigs of basil or thyme from my garden and placing them in mason jars.

Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food The night of our soirée was a Tuesday in July. The table was set, the guest arrived, and Edith Piaf was belting out La Vie en Rose in the background. Franco started us off with fresh oysters and tuna carpaccio with wasabi salsa. We all lingered by him at the island in the kitchen, standing, drinks in hand, scooping up an oyster, biting off a chunk of baguette. Laughing. Chatting. I don’t care how big or exotic your house may be, if you’re a foodie, there’s no other spot for you but the kitchen, near the person cooking. You will stay there the entire time until you’re told to leave, which happens often, right before food is about to be served. I remember my mother  yelling at every Christmas dinner, “Everybody out of the kitchen!” including the adults, and we knew it was only moments before dinner would be served.

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The grilled pork belly

The tuna and oysters would have been enough. I would have been completely satisfied. But, it was only the beginning. Following the antipasti, Franco prepared sautéed shrimp & cuttlefish squid ink pasta. He plated and served the pasta for seven adults and seven kids and we finally took our seats at the table. More wine. More talking. And the slurping of the squid ink pasta, which turned our tongues black. At this point, we ate nothing else. Just pasta. In Italy, true tradition is to never serve a “side” of pasta or a meat over a mound of pasta. Rather spaghetti, pasta, risotto and so on are the primi piatti, or first plate. Then the main course, which, in our case (coincidentally), was Pennsylvania Amish pork, is served with a small accompaniment.

Eat slowly. While the photo of the grilled pork belly I’m sharing here exists, it does it no justice. And to say that this one piece of meat changed my perception of pork forever is an understatement. I assure you this dish was so divine it threw me into a state of temporary nirvana so profound and so celestial that I became speechless for moments after I had first tasted it (my eyes may have also rolled back into my head; honestly I don’t remember). I kid you not. Because the second bite was just as mind-blowing as the first. Tender. Mouthwatering. Succulent. Cosmic. Franco grilled the pork out back on our little grill–an outdoor appliance that never cooked up anything fancier than a burger or a dog. He topped it with a light salmorigano sauce of lemon, olive oil, garlic, oregano and fresh parsley. He believes food should be simple. It should speak for itself. Marisa made baby kale and watercress salad with dates, goat milk ricotta, figs and balsamic pearls as a side.

But here’s the question. Would this meal taste as good on its own? Does any food have the ability to taste divine in a complete vacuum?

The answer is complex. While “delicious” food can be and is often prepared, cooked and served by a pro (or not), the experience of the meal can be deeply enhanced when shared with friends who participate in the story of that food. We ate together. We ate slowly. We ate deliberately. We talked about the food. We talked about cooking. We talked about ingredients and farms and animals. By the end of the night, we all knew which ocean the oysters were pulled from, what the pig had eaten, and that the pasta was made with cuttlefish ink and semolina flour imported from a tiny village in Sicily. I want to make it perfectly clear that every part of this meal came with a story.

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A summer berry & fruit tart

And just as a storyteller weaves a tale and transports an audience, the perfect meal does the same to those who sit down together and eat it. There’s a symbiotic relationship between people and food, and to make a mental and emotional direct connection to it– where it comes from, how it’s made, what it means to you –is to achieve as close and intimate an experience as you can possibly ever achieve from something you ingest. And, that’s when I realized that, Greenland aside, I had had many perfect meals in my lifetime. I grew up with a family that bred me with a keen sense of food not only as sustenance, but as a story. Our Italian heritage, our identity was connected to nearly every recipe my mother made. My great grandmother’s raviolis. The red gravy a top every Sunday dinner. The Italian cookies that were made on my great-grandmother’s pizzelle iron. If food is love then the perfect meal is the story in which that love is told.

The dishes were not cleared from the table right away. If you are Italian, Spanish or Greek (maybe even French), clearing the table too quickly is sacrilege. Plates remain on the table a long time. This is a distinctly Mediterranean tradition. We pick. We eat more. We eat off someone else’s plate. We take our time. We talk. We drink. We digest. Whether you are right off the boat or third generation Italian-American, these are the kinds of traditions that are not so easy to shake. They last for centuries. Sitting at the table a long time over a good meal is in your blood.

At some point, someone asked for an espresso. I cheated. I whipped up a few in my more modern Nespresso maker, not yet a pro at using the macchinetta. I didn’t know this, but, Italians apparently never order a cappuccino after 10 in the morning. After dinner, you have an espresso. And then you have a Passito Di Pantelleria, which is a sweet dessert wine. Or chocolate.

A slice of  homemade fruit tart isn’t so bad either. The next thing you know, it’s close to midnight and your friends are helping you with the dishes and you’re completely spent. You’ve experienced the perfect meal.

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Friends: Tracy Shields, Jan, Juan, Doug, Marisa, Franco and Lisa

I often wonder if the pork they served us in Greenland would have tasted better with friends. I imagine it would.  And yet, there was no story to that pork. No one knew where it came from. In fact, we were so remote, I often imagined that we received our food by way of some humanitarian-like airdrop, where cargo planes would fly overhead and boxes of frozen pork would be dropped by parachute onto the frozen tundra. Actually, we’re not so far off from that imaginary scenario when we go to the grocery store. Where does all that stuff come from? Who knows. Michael Pollan writes that your best hope for real food from a supermarket is around the perimeter. That’s where the produce, the dairy, the meats are. All the aisles in between are processed food airdropped from corporate America.  The best story that comes from a bag of chips is that you located it on sale in aisle seven. I’m not sure that makes for a very great story. Or a great meal.

 

 

 

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Take it personally!

February 23, 2012

Need a great gift idea? How about dinner for two prepared in your home by a personal chef.

As some of you may know (despite my public displays of affection for my lovely boyfriend, D) I am not very romantic. I hate the idea of Valentine’s day, I think celebrating anniversaries is kinda lame, and I rarely make any requests for candlelight dinners, flowers or chocolate. But I do love giving and receiving  unique gifts.

And so, the other week, I was trying to come up with a gift for D– whether we celebrate or not, I still wanted to do something special for our three-year anniversary. That’s when Fran Davis popped up on my Facebook newsfeed with the idea of hiring a personal chef to prepare dinner for two. Bingo. I hate cooking, but love to eat healthy so I chose my menu items (she had a few to choose from) and I hired her.

Personal Chef Fran Davis, of The Flavorful Fork

On Friday, she arrived at 4ish with all her cooking supplies, including her own pans, knives, spices,  and towels for clean up. I think she even brought her own sponge! Anyway, as she cooked (in my kitchen), I was able to finish up some work and then pad around the house, doing virtually nothing. Actually, I kinda felt like a lazy, pampered (spoiled) bourgeois housewife. But we chatted and laughed and I was amazed at how well she was able to not only cook this amazing meal, but socialize as well. I think if I had her job, I would have been more like, “OK, don’t talk to me, and get out of the kitchen!” Who knows, maybe inside that’s how she felt. Truth is, she seemed very at home and comfortable.

So, D came home around 5:30.  Fran had also brought over a bottle of Spanish red for us, so we started drinking that. I set the table, lit a candle (why not) and by 5:45 dinner was served.

Our first course was a mango and avocado salad with mango dressing (I still have the dressing in my fridge and keep putting it on everything), after that she served Parmesan-Herb Crusted Tilapia, served with mashed yams (I believe she threw a little sage into the yams too). This main course was so amazingly good that it made me believe I was eating at Le Bec Fin. Tres gourmet. To think that something that delicious can be made in my kitchen is a bit of a shocker. That was always my excuse as to why I never cooked. I didn’t think my kitchen was capable of it. Then again, there was that time that Natalie made that amazing risotto. Now, I guess, I have no excuse.

But back to Fran, our final course was a pear-cranberry fruit crumble for dessert with a scoop of coconut ice cream. Dear Lord! I think I gained 10 pounds in two hours. But it was completely worth it. By that point, D and I were both in our respective food comas and I don’t even remember Fran cleaning up. The next thing I remember was hugging her goodbye and dreaming up a future event where her services could again, be put to good use. Maybe a tapas party in the new house? Just to make sure the new kitchen is capable of serving up fabulous faire? Definitely food for thought.

As for my lack of enthusiasm for romance, I guess I’m not entirely averse to it. But I would still not say that the night was romantic. It’s kind of hard to be all shmoopy in the presence of a friend who’s cooking in your kitchen. But it was definitely a positive, unique experience. And that’s what I liked about it. I could feel pampered for the night and in my book, any time I don’t have to cook, it’s a good thing! I will definitely be calling Fran again. And I hope this inspires others to do the same! She can be reached at The Flavorful Fork dot com.

Disaster in the ‘burbs

August 27, 2011

Years ago, when I was living in New Hampshire, my father took me camping out in my backyard. I spent the night holed up in an old chicken coop, while my father heated up a pot of soup over an open fire. I remember feeling so free and pioneering, despite being yards away from my house. Just my dad and I,  surviving the elements, living like frontiersmen. Trying to make do on rations of soup, hotdogs and a loaf of Wonder bread. It was exhilarating. Until I realized that I was missing my nightly glass of warm milk before bed.  “We’re surviving out here,” my dad told me. “There’s no glass of milk in the wilderness.”

I wasn’t much of a survivalist then and I’m still not. And in a deep-rooted, guilt-ridden sense, I am ashamed of myself and  people like me who, sadly, are creatures of comfort. Whose disaster mentality has translated not only into buying up a gazillion water bottles and stock piling food like it was the end of the world, but purchasing rain boots, generators and a month’s supply of romance novels. I am embarrassed that our survivalist instinct has turned into a consumerist instinct, and that we even have all this crap for purchase to begin with. And, I regret to admit that extreme conditions, cautioned about incessantly on every TV channel and every radio station and every online newswire, incite us to run out to Wal-Mart as if our life depended on it.

I’m kind of disappointed too that we desperately fear adversity. Oh sure, we love it in movies. But reality’s another story. What happened to our fore fathers’ pioneering spirit? Has our DNA transmuted so severely that no one wants to be that guy whose power goes out for a week; or whose house blows away; or whose stuff sinks into biblical flash floods and everything he owns is stripped from him in a matter of 24 hours?  The guy who didn’t heed the governor’s warning to “prepare” or “evacuate.” And even though, you know as well as I do, that the power will be back on within 24 hours, it’s a little disheartening  that we’re all purchasing with such fury and devotion.

I’m not saying that I don’t think the storm will do damage. Or even that lives or possessions are at risk. I’m not even upset that, after the 5.9 earthquake where the extent of destruction was an overturned plastic chair,  Wolf Blitzer finally has something to talk about.

What I am saying is that our survivalist instinct has morphed into some weird excuse to shop.

And while  The Dominican Republic, or some of the smaller islands of The Bahamas  watch their lives sink into oblivion, we on the East Coast are buying up two-hundred cans of Chicken Noodle soup for a ten-hour power outage.

Forget about the coastal towns, where homes are truly in the path of the eye of the storm. There are spots from South Carolina to Maine that need to take extreme caution. I’m not talking about those places. I’m talking about right here– 40 miles inland, where my local grocery store’s shelves are bare and where Target has sold out of not only batteries, but rain boots (Rain boots? Really?)

What bothers me is our desperate tenacity to avoid any kind of deprivation. We fear being without. Without electricity. Without power. Without water. Without food. Without peanut M&Ms, a pocket full of cash and about twenty DVDs for weekend movie watching. Being without has become unpatriotic. “Stuff” and the possessing of it is as American as apple pie. Sure, there are necessities that we should not go without during a hurricane. An emergency preparedness kit is a great idea. But hoarding and stockpiling massive quantities of food and useless commodities like rain boots is, quite frankly, insane. Especially when you consider that PSE&G will have “6000 employees supporting the restoration effort, including 840 linemen and 540 tree contractors available to respond to outages once the hurricane pulls away.”

You know as well as I do that the power will be back on–if your home is still standing– within 24 hours. And if your home isn’t still standing, then a can opener won’t do you much good, will it? Remarkably,  the diner down the road can take care of your needs.

Wawa will re-open. Shop Rite will be restocked. Roads will clear.

This is the suburbs. It’s not Nunivak Island off the Yukon River delta in Alaska. I’m not sure of any disaster scenario in Cherry Hill, NJ which might necessitate a three-day supply of non-perishables when Whole Foods is in walking distance and will reopen for business the day after the storm. No one will starve. No one will go hungry. And no one, technically, will go without.

The Wall Street Journal had an amazing article out a while ago, entitled, The Fantasy of Survivalism, which details our inherent need to experience real disaster. That need showcases itself every where–in apocalyptic movies like 2012, Armageddon and Doomsday; in our media outlets, news channels and social networking sites; and in our own “disaster mentality,” which compels us, as a society, to stockpile, hoard and accumulate goods when rationally, it doesn’t make sense to do so.

Virginia Postrel writes, “…the survivalist instinct mostly plays to a perverse fantasy. It’s both comforting and thrillingly seductive to imagine that you’re completely independent, that you don’t need anyone or anything beyond your home, that you can master any challenge. In the survivalist imagination, a future disaster becomes a high-stakes opportunity to demonstrate competence and superiority.”

But sadly, there’s a rather large disconnect between the fantasy of surviving and the reality of it. For one, we’re not really surviving. We’re weathering a storm. You survive the Isreali-Palestinian border. You survive trekking through Tibet. You do not survive affluent Haddonfield.  Second, we’re failing to make logical, rational judgements in the face of “What if…” The Weather Channel reported that “28 million are under threat of a hurricane watch.” It sounds devastating. It sounds catastrophic. And it sounds like I better get 100 bottles of water instead of ten. In other words, my perspective on where I am located, my socio-economic status, the strength of my home and the resources surrounding  me don’t play into my  judgement about what will probably happen, as opposed to what could happen (side note: at the height of this thing, they’re calling for 40 mph winds for Medford, NJ). Lastly, if you want to know the truth, most of us are ill-prepared for true survival anyway. “Our society is full of ignorant urbanites who don’t know how to make what they use,”  Postrel quotes, “That ignorance makes us vulnerable.” And that ignorance  leads us to believe that  consumption of goods is the next best thing. I, for one, couldn’t tell you how to find edible berries in the woods if my life depended on it.

Which leads me back to my argument about the suburbs. Do we really need to forage for food anyway? Do we really need to prepare for three days of isolation and internment when, within minutes after the storm,  Krispy Kreme will reopen and we can once again pig out on donuts? Has anyone ever eaten cold soup from a can anyway???

Sometimes we are so wrapped up in our  disaster mentality that we “play out the steps taken ‘before, during, and after a natural disaster’. These include ‘predictions of impending doom’, overreactions, the ‘institutionalization of threat’, rumour, false alarms and at times mass delusion” (Cohen 1972: 144-8 in Goode & Ben-Yehuda 1994: 29). And speaking of impending doom, I made sure to shave my legs this morning in the shower, lest I am cut off from a water supply for several days.

All this brings me  to Bangladesh. Every year in Bangladesh monsoons come and wipe out everything along the river. Every year people lose their homes, their possession; some lose their lives. But they’ve become so adapted to this way of life that they can collect all their belongings in one bag and stick it in a boat. They can float down river for days until the floods cease. And then, they rebuild–year after year after year.  Postrel quotes Victor Davis Hanson of the Hoover Institution as saying; “Those who, in extremis, are able to produce their own food and shelter are far more autonomous, and far better able to react to adversity,”

And I agree. We give up something of ourselves and forego our deeper potential to “survive” when we turn our power over to credit cards and to nonsensical stockpiling of things as nutty as “freeze dried delights which can be easily stored for 7-25 years.”(Suburban Survivalists Begin Hoarding Food, Water and Weapons).

Look, who am I kidding. I went out and bought up water bottles and canned goods just like everyone else. I have my fancy little crank radio, candles and matches ready to go. And without anyone knowing, I secretly checked to make sure our sleeping bags were readily accessible. For what, I don’t know. And there is a part of me, deep down inside, that functions, like Postrel suggests, on a “survivalist imagination” and wishes to experience an epic event where I actually get to use all this stuff. But the reality is, I am well taken care of. Trees will blow down around me. Maybe even some power lines will fall. Maybe I’ll lose electricity. If I’m lucky, dinner will be a can of beans that I’ll open with my manual can opener.  I’ll feel like I’m a frontierswoman again. And in the morning, just like everyone else, when the storm’s over,  I’ll go back to the grocery store and restock– or I’ll eat my words. Let’s hope for the former.

Crossed off my list for good

December 31, 2010

My kids and I recently took an 8 hour drive up to Canada, just for kicks. We had nothing else to do for three days and thought it would be fun to just drive and hop a relatively close border. And it was. We got pulled over at border patrol, our car was searched, and I was told I needed “permission” from my ex to leave the country, which I knew, but forgot to get. They let us cross anyway and so, we made it to Ottawa by dinner.

We wandered down Dalhousie Street to Byward Market and amid a grouping of rather cool pubs (which I would have preferred in a pinch if I were with D) I noticed the slumping facade of the Hard Rock Cafe. Oh let’s go here! I immediately remembered my youthful self, circa 1989, and the envy of all my friends when I told them I’d not only been to the Hard Rock Cafe in NYC, but in London as well (remember the eighties when you collected visits to the Hard Rock Cafe and that made you so cool? And then that goofy Planet Hollywood came out and tried to whoop up the same fervor, but never really did, and you suddenly weren’t cool if you liked that place?).

Anyway, I thought my boys would love the HRC. And they did! But the truth is, the food was horrifying. Everything tasted fake and enhanced. J’s burger had that fake char-grilled smoke flavor on it. The sweet potato fries had some weird aftertaste and the salad had rubbery fake chicken, diced perfectly into tiny squares and yellowish white iceberg lettuce (who makes salads with just iceberg lettuce anymore?). On the walls were Britney Spear’s blue sequined shirt, Eminem’s high top sneakers (and maybe even his stinky socks), a turtleneck sweater from Alanis Morissette and a pair of ripped jeans from Shania Twain. Back in my day they had Ringo Starr’s drum pack, Jimmy Page’s guitar and Prince’s purple overcoat. Hard rock memorabilia that hung on the walls where famous people sat down and had a Guinness at the bar. The crowds now? People like me with their babies screaming and their kids running around tables, knocking over trays of rubbery chicken and greasy fries.

So, this got me thinking, firstly, that I will never go back to any Hard Rock Cafe, no matter how big the guitar above their front door. And secondly, that I will probably never go back to a long line of other crappy places. And so, this morning’s blog is my top ten “Crossed off my list for good” list. What’s on yours?

1. Hard Rock Cafe
2. Chuckie Cheese
3. Sahara Sam’s
4. Miniature Golfing (any of them!)
5. Medieval Times
6. Planet Hollywood (does this place even exist anymore?)
7. Gillette, Wyoming
8. Hostal Pedregalejo, Malaga Spain
9. Mars 2112
10. Midtown Manhattan during the Christmas holidays
11. Albuquerque, NM
12. “The Pub” in Pennsauken
13. The Berlin flea market
14. A bowling tournament
15. Being 142 lbs
16. Anywhere (except locally) on New Year’s Eve
17. Getting my hair bleached
18. A football game at any stadium
19. The Mummer’s Parade
20. Any parade…
21. Friday’s
22. The top of the Empire State Building

Notes from my conscience

April 28, 2010

There’s humor in here somewhere.



1. Do not eat meat. It rots in your gut. It is seething with bacteria, growth hormones and feces. And if you can help it, don’t eat any animal products.

2. Stay away from white flour. It has no nutritional value whatsoever. It’s the devil.

3. Sugar will rot your teeth. Avoid sugar. More importantly, avoid sugar substitutes. They cause cancer.

4. Processed foods cause cancer also. They will kill you. Processed foods are a good example of man’s inhumanity to man.

5. You can eat fruits and vegetables, but only organic and only locally grown. Stay away from corporate organic growers in Ecuador and Costa Rica. The travel time and energy it takes to ship these organics foods to your local market depletes the ozone layer.

6. Soy is a scam. Avoid soy.

7. Fish isn’t safe anymore. There’s mercury and PCBs in the water. Don’t eat fish. Take omega-3 vitamin supplements instead, but with a few rules: don’t buy just any over-the-counter fish oil. Check the amount of EPA and DHA of each capsule and what fish they use when extracting the omega-3s. And by all means, make sure you get a pure brand that uses molecular distillation.

8. Stay away from plastic containers. They’re toxic and made with polyethylene terephthalate. Polyethylene terephthalate when ingested is like eating arsenic. Drink tap water instead, but only if your water has been tested for bacteria.

9. Keep away from coffee, sodas, caffeinated products, chocolate, alcohol, drugs and sugary sports drinks. They destroy your hormones and upset the delicate Ph balance of your system.

10. Only wear clothing that is 100% domestic, organic clothing. Do not buy from Anthropologie, Gap, Old Navy, Abercrombie, Free People, Lucky or any other big name brand for that matter because they disregard child labor laws and operate in foreign countries, bastardizing the local culture and community.

11. Do not buy Pitbulls as pets. They are bred for destruction.

12. Corn and other fruits and veggies are genetically modified. Did I say fruits and veggies were safe? They’re not.

13. As for religion, disregard all organized religions, especially Christianity, Judiasm and Islam. Religions are notorious for misleading the general public into the false belief that man rules the world. Religion moves us away from adapting to the environment to forcing the environment to adapt to us. Bad news. Stay away from religion. Buddhism is not a religion. It’s a philosophy, so it’s safe to think about. But don’t organize a group around it. Like in Tibet where Buddhism has become a “depraved Shamanistic religion where Lamas tell fortunes for alms, by the haunches of mutton, or dice; they beg and cheat; to mystify the ignorant, they mutter squeaky conjurations or play with human bones.”

14. Do not watch television or stare at a computer screen for longer than 20 minutes a day. The radiation will burn your eyes out.

15. Masturbation is OK. We now know it doesn’t blind you or cause calluses. Although some blind people do masturbate.

16. Transportation is destroying the environment with CO2 emissions. If you must get from point A to point B use a bicycle, horse, skateboard, surfboard, pogo stick, sail boat or simply walk. Hummers, thank God, are no longer being sold. But electric cars are bad for the environment too. Dead batteries end up in landfills.

17. Use fluorescent bulbs only.

18. Collect rainwater in a cistern or a bucket to lower your water bill. Don’t drink it. It’s contaminated with mold, bacteria, algae, protozoa and small particles of dust not to mention lead, arsenic and pesticides.

19. Keep your shower to a three-minute maximum. There will be no drinking water in 90 years.

20. Do not wear perfume. It’s poison and it causes bees to lose their sense of direction.

21. Avoid make-up. It causes skin cancer.

22. Do not go into the jungle without a face mask. Humans are spreading diseases to the gorilla populations in Africa.

23. Do not pay federal taxes. 54% of your tax dollars go to military spending. War causes global warming. Then again, it causes death, which controls the population. Note to self: rethink not paying taxes.

24. Avoid soaps and shampoos with Sodium Laurel Sulfates.

25. Don’t use cleaning products or bleach or harsh, powdered laundry detergents. Don’t flush these chemicals down the toilet and or dispose of them in the trash.

26. Don’t accumulate trash. The more trash you accumulate the more trash ends up in a landfill.

27. Do not have children. The planet is overpopulated. Children are responsible for generating 1,600 pounds of garbage a year. Children eventually turn into adults and end up generating 128,000 pounds of garbage in a lifetime.

28. Do not buy paper products or use them.

29. Recycle.

30. Do not shop at Wal-Mart, it rapes local economies the minute it sets up shop in town, keeps its employees at the poverty line so as to maintain its profit and “costs federal taxpayers $420,000 a year” by not paying its employees enough to get off public assistance.

31. Do not buy a house with more square-footage than you need. It’s a waste of resources.

32. Don’t travel or buy travel literature. It causes global warming.

33. Don’t smoke.

34. Do not marry. Marriage causes children. Homosexuality is safer for the environment as it doesn’t result in children. So, become gay, but stick with one partner. Many partners with unprotected sex causes AIDS and condoms are environmentally unfriendly. Remaining single and masturbating is safest.

35. Don’t spend money. Money generates more productivity. Productivity generates energy, products and ultimately waste. Don’t buy anything ever again. Re-using is safe. Except maybe disposable diapers. In that case, use only cloth diapers and wash ’em.

36. Above all else, avoid McDonald’s. McDonald’s soaks their fries in trans fat, uses lethal poisons to destroy vast areas of Central American rainforests and takes away farmland from poor, third-world countries to fatten up Americans. One meal from McDonald’s is contaminated with urine, feces, blood and vomit and linked to breast cancer, bowel cancer and heart disease. Stay away from McDonald’s.

Christmas Eve Dinner

December 21, 2009

I don’t get to prepare Christmas eve dinner every year, despite the fact that it’s one of my favorite holidays to prepare and cook for. But this year my ex will be in Spain, so the kids are with me, as will be the rest of my family. How lucky!

One of the reasons I love to cook for Christmas eve is because there is such a freedom of variety of foods that you can prepare. I am Italian. That means I grew up with the tradition of the seven fishes on Christmas eve. My mother and father used to prepare cod, smelts, calamad (squid), clams and spaghetti, flounder or scrod, shrimp and mussels and sometimes sardines. Everything they made though, seemed to revolve around the gravy (sauce) and it all ended up tasting the same to me. So, since I’ve been doing Christmas eve dinner (the last twelve years), I’ve tried to vary each course, as well as add my own little flair here and there.

This year, because so many people are coming at different times, I thought it would be best to make most of the menu based on Hors d’oeuvres. This way, we can “pick” throughout the day, then, a little later we can have a very light, standard dinner. I’ll definitely let y’all know how it goes!

Le Menu

Christmas Eve, 2009


First Course – Hors d’oeuvres

Organic, unpasteurized Manchego el Trigal

Cured, raw Murcia cheese made from fresh goat’s milk

Aged Gruyere

Kalamata and Italian green olives and feta

Sardines, mussels and anchovies

Savory, cold shrimp cocktail a la Nuria

Creamy, fresh smoked trout pate, served with a side of challah bread

Sea scallops wrapped in bacon and drenched in butter and lemon

Crabmeat stuffed mushroom

Second Course

Roasted Butternut Squash and Lump Crab bisque

Third Course

Calamari salad with pistachios and dates

Main Course

Baked filet of flounder in lemon zest,

wild rice with apple walnut, and  fresh broccoli

Dessert

Assorted cookies and cakes a la Mariel & Nuria

Food Diary

November 29, 2009

I ate a lot of interesting things over the weekend, all in an attempt to cleanse my system. Sadly, I think I did the reverse. My stomach felt like a toxic waste dump up until about an hour ago (ahem…). Anyway, after eating like this, I think it’s safe to say that a detox diet is in order. The book I’m reading above offers hope! I’m going to try to stick to Miso Soup, brown rice and few veggies. Keeping it bland at least for a couple days. Then I may move into just raw foods. I’ve been reading some recipes from Ani Phyo’s website, as well as Alissa Cohen. I particularly like the desserts of Ani Phyo’s like the oatmeal raisin cookies and the peach and pistachio cobbler (see recipe on her video homepage). I think tomorrow, it’s off to Wholefoods to buy some ingredients.

Thursday

Breakfast
Oatmeal with Raisins and Natural Applesauce

Lunch
½ Hummus Wrap with Lettuce, Tomato and Shredded Jack Cheese

Dinner
Wine
Carrots, Celery, Pepperoni, Cheese, Crackers, Shrimp Cocktail
Turkey, corn, salad, string beans, corn casserole, bread, stuffing (all in very tiny portions, but a wide variety nonetheless)
One slice of apple pie, one cup of tea, couple sips of regular coffee

Friday

Breakfast
Green Smoothie
(Kale, Banana, Blueberries, Fresh Squeezed Pomegranate Juice)

Lunch
Couple bites of pie (???)

Dinner
Salmon
French Fries
Cole Slaw
Bites of a Brownie Sundae (my son’s bad influence and his close proximity to me at the table)

Bailey’s Irish Crème over ice
Popcorn (Movie night!)
(this was more of a diet disaster than Thanksgiving!)

Saturday

Breakfast
Green Smoothie
(Kale, Spinach, Banana, Blueberries, Fresh Squeezed Pomegranate Juice, Chocolate Whey Protein)

Lunch
Miso Soup
Korean BiBimBap
(Raw egg, Beef, Rice, julienned cucumber, zucchini, mu (daikon), mushrooms, doraji (bellflower root), and gim, as well as spinach, soybean sprouts, and gosari (bracken fern stems).
Banana, Strawberry Sherbet Smoothie

Dinner
Shrimp Tempura Sushi Roll (4 pieces)
Sweet Potato Tempura Roll (4 pieces)
Popcorn (Movie night with kids part II)

Sunday
Breakfast
Oatmeal with Raisins and Natural Applesauce

Lunch
Tabouli with Hummus and Pita

Dinner
Hummus Wrap with Lettuce, Tomato and Shredded Jack Cheese