Category Archives: cooking?!?

Friendship Goal for 2019: The Dinner Party Revival

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The friendship sphere of life is a weird place to assign goals, yet I do it anyway. Last year, I focused on broadening our connections to school parents. We hosted a number of families (both parents and kids) for get-togethers. I also organized a class-wide social event and was a room parent.

This year, I’m focusing on a different kind of social event.

Goal: Host 4 Dinner Parties

We already knocked one out, on New Years Eve. The party ended at about 12:30 AM, so yes, I am claiming it on a technicality. The theme was “Auld Lang Syne” as this was a group of old friends. We planned an old school Americana menu: shrimp cocktail, caesar salad, roasted potatoes with rosemary, London Broil and Ruth Reichl’s caramel glazed gingered applesauce cake (see photo above). My husband made “old pal” cocktails. We split the cooking and cleaning duties evenly.

What I like about dinner parties is you don’t have to worry about making restaurant reservations and if you are the host, driving and parking in a crowded urban area. With this particular group of friends, who are parents, all of our kids are also friends. So the kids watched “A Series of Unfortunate Events” downstairs together (no babysitter needed – score!) while the adults enjoyed our evening upstairs. When the ball dropped on TV, we all came together with noise makers and sang “Auld Lang Syne” poorly.

There is something lovely and satisfying about entertaining people you like. The downside is obvious–lots of cleaning, cooking and it can be stressful (what if your meal is a disaster?). But, there are also lots of ways to make entertaining easier. You obviously don’t HAVE to cook. With the current options for delivery out there, you can order all kinds of cuisine. You can also host a potluck, to ease cooking pressures. We scheduled our cleaning service for the day before, which helped us make the house presentable.

My parents threw dinner parties frequently when I was growing up, and I have pleasant memories of sitting at the top of the stairs in my nightgown, listening to the lively chatter. My mom made fantastic food, like Steak Diane and chocolate mousse–she went through a major Julia Child phase. I remember helping to set the table with fancy plates and linen, and helped prepare some of the dishes. My in-laws entertain a lot as well, and my father-in-law is the cook for those events. They have perfected a system over the years so that they can easily entertain for groups of 40 (holidays) or 4.

Other than book clubs and things like kids birthday parties, I do feel like entertaining has gone out of style for most people, at least where I live. So I’d like to do my small part to revive it.

Do you entertain or throw dinner parties? Why or why not?

Read more about my 2019 goals:

 

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Why Blogging Matters

Whew! What a week, huh? It’s shaping up to be a pretty historic June. Like most of you, I’ve been thinking and discussing the fast-moving developments with friends and family, feeling my head whip forward, backward and forward again. I have noticed an increase in conversation, particularly in DIALOGUE, about things we as Americans don’t often talk about.

I hate to say “Mainstream Media” as if there is just one monolith of opinions by journalists (print, broadcast and online) but it IS difficult to avoid seeing these wide, vast issues reduced into in tart soundbites and simplified arguments. The Paula Deen controversy, in particular, has been boiled down to a few pungent ingredients, for example. Pun intended, obviously. Racism vs. scapegoat, obesity vs. healthy eating, empire-building vs. nepotism. The End.

Except, not. And here’s where blogging comes in. I get very cynical about blogging sometimes. It is a love/hate affair that comes around and around. And then I’ll discover a post that is illuminating and makes me think about many things entirely differently.

Because the greatest thing about blogging? It gives POWER TO THE VOICELESS.

Case in point: Michael Tweedy’s post, “An Open Letter to Paula Deen”

Tweedy makes a number of powerful points in this post about race, America and food and cuisine and language. He argues that the charges against Paula Deen (which he mostly pardons her of) obfuscate something much deeper: the real roots and collaboration (willing and unwilling) African Americans don’t get recognized for in the style of cooking she has made famous. It turns out, Southern Cooking and Paula Deen owe much more to African American traditions and ingredients and preparation than I think most of us are aware.

Don’t forget that the Southern food you have been crowned the queen of was made into an art largely in the hands of enslaved cooks, some like the ones who prepared food on your ancestor’s Georgia plantation. You, just like me cousin, stand squarely on what late playwright August Wilson called, “the self defining ground of the slave quarter.” There and in the big house kitchen, Africa, Europe and Native America(s) melded and became a fluid genre of world cuisine known as Southern food. Your barbecue is my West African babbake, your fried chicken, your red rice, your hoecake, your watermelon, your black eyed peas, your crowder peas, your muskmelon, your tomatoes, your peanuts, your hot peppers, your Brunswick stew and okra soup, benne, jambalaya, hoppin’ john, gumbo, stewed greens and fat meat—have inextricable ties to the plantation South and its often Black Majority coming from strong roots in West and Central Africa.

Not exactly what we’ve been reading about, eh?

He goes on:

We think you are a businesswoman who has made some mistakes, has character flaws like everybody else and in fact is now a scapegoat. I find it hard to be significantly angry at you when during the last election the re-disenfranchisement of the Negro—like something from the time of W.E.B. Du Bois was a national cause celebre. Hell, today the voting rights act was gutted and I’m sure many think this is a serious win for “democracy.” If I want to be furious about something racial—well America—get real—we’ve had a good twelve years of really really rich material that the National media has set aside to talk about Paula Deen. Yes Paula, in light of all these things, you are the ultimate, consummate racist, and the one who made us fat, and the reason why American food sucks and ……you don’t believe that any more than I do.

Think about that for a while. WHEW!

And yet, Tweedy reminds us so powerfully that reconciliation, learning to work side by side, is ALWAYS the answer.

If there is anything The Cooking Gene has taught me—its about the art of reconciliation. We aren’t happy with you right now. Then again some of the things you have said or have been accused of saying aren’t surprising. In so many ways, that’s the more unfortunate aspect. We are resigned to believe and understand that our neighbor is to be suspected before respected. It doesn’t have to be this way, and it doesn’t have to go on forever.

In the closing passage that made me cry and want to be a better human being, Tweedy invites Paula Deen to come to an event and co-prepare with him a traditional plantation dinner: one that includes sourced ingredients from local farmers and takes place in the one of the biggest plantations there ever was in the South. In this simple gesture, Tweedy reminds us that while history and the past are ever potent, we have a choice to make the world a better place through forgiveness and understanding. Understanding what has made us ALL who we are, but also, ACTION, not just idle talk: we can CHOOSE to be better people. Less suspect. More welcoming. More hospitable. More, well, SOUTHERN.

To paraphrase JK Rowling, it’s our choices who make us who we are.

Have you come across any powerful posts from blogs which have illuminated your view beyond the media soundbites? Please share! I’d love to read them.

And don’t worry…more “How to Dress” posts and “Project: Dreamcatcher” to come!

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Disoriented

Back Camera

Rarely, there comes a period of time when everything I think I know for sure is questioned. I mostly like the new, the different. I enjoy novelty, new trends, new technology. This is perhaps why I love to travel and why I enjoy our proximity to Silicon Valley: I love NEW.

But I don’t necessarily love surprises.

The Meteor

I think a general feeling of confusion began when that meteor hit Russia. I hate meteors. They scare me. I think the primary mission for NASA should be predicting and protecting earth from asteroids hitting us. Yes, I am totally serious. One of the reasons I support President Obama is because I know he thinks meteors are a real threat. I know this makes me sound like a crackpot, but well, there you have it.

SO: when I heard on the radio that a meteor had hit Siberia, I was freaked. I had read that Asteroid 2012 DA would narrowly miss earth (yes, I keep track of this stuff) so this was an unhappy surprise. I rushed home and went on YouTube and watched the videos. Shudder.

The Tragedy

A week later, the uneasy feeling still trailing after me, I met with the contractor who has been redoing our basement. He told me that his main sub-contracter, a man I saw almost every day for a month, a nice guy who had painstakingly reassembled a fussy Venetian mirror that is a family treasure and who had chatted with the twins: he was dead. Our contractor had been driving to the store to pick up dog food when he saw a van parked on the side of the road surrounded by police cars and an ambulance. With a sinking feeling, he recognized the van as the one that belonged to his employee. He pulled over, only to be told there was no hope. The sub-contractor had passed away of a heart attack while driving. He was only 52. I am still dumbfounded, and sad. I assumed he had many years ahead of him.

The Joyful News

That very same day, I got a text from Esperanza asking if I was sitting down. If you haven’t gotten the good news yet, please visit her! I don’t know if I have ever talked about this, but I have been taking Esperanza’s diagnosis of Diminished Ovarian Reserve rather personally, since it was the very same diagnosis I received at the exact same age. I know her diagnosis was not about me at all, but I was so very angry when I heard the news, because I remember how hopeless the prognosis was, and how no one understood how different and poor the stakes were. Also, truthfully, I am a bit of a know-it-all about DOR. I have really tried hard to keep out of E’s decisions, and respect her very different set of factors determining treatment. And also try to remember that the same diagnosis can lead to different results. (Wildly different, even.) I’ll admit here too that I didn’t have much faith in Eastern medicine to primarily treat my own infertility because of my OWN experience (The diet and the supplements were flop until I combined them with Western medicine) so I’ve been astounded at what has happened with E. And truth be told? I feel kind of stupid. Did I not try hard enough with the Fertility Diet? Did I rush to use fertility drugs? Will these decisions be hazardous to my health later on? I’m feeling a lot of self-doubt and regret. Before, I’ve always been able to confidently say why my poor prognosis directly led to our decision to do IVF, and to do it fast. (“Time is not your friend,” I was told. After 2 1/2 years of TTC, I had not once gotten pregnant on my own and my chances of TTC naturally were “less than 2%.”) But now, I find myself second-guessing that rush to treatment.

At the end of the day, it’s silly to second guess such things. I’m so very happy that I have my wonderful twins. And that’s all that matters.

I will say, however, that both of these antidotal episodes have reminded me of the incredible importance of eating the right foods, unlike any major medically-backed studies that I SHOULD have paid attention to. Growing up, my family ate peerlessly healthy meals: dark green vegetables, a lot of fish, olive oil, garlic, tomatoes, beans and legumes. These were the MAIN parts of every repast. There was no dessert, and locally baked sourdough bread was our only treat. The twins eat the food I grew up with now. But I don’t. There is a major reason for this: I have horrible acid reflux, the legacy of a drug I took to increase my breastfeeding supply. (Was I too obsessed with “Breast is Best?” More regrets.) A lot of food is painful to digest, so I end up eating things that are the LEAST painful: crackers, rice cakes, yogurt, bananas. Nothing very nourishing. I take a good multivitamin but it’s not the same. Then there is my Matcha Green Tea addiction. (Caffeine from green tea is the only kind I can tolerate.)

I think it’s time for a change.

Have you ever gone through a period where your “certainties” have been questioned? Was it a good or bad thing?

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Life From Here

Pam, the amazing writer behind Bloodsigns, is once again hosting her “Life From Here” blog hop. She lives in the Frozen North and has the gorgeous photos to prove it.

I can’t top this:

Pam

Credit: PK Bosch

I mean, how fabulous is that?

Here are some images of what life is like here, and apologies for the Instagrams. Our camera’s battery needs to be replaced, but the grainy, blurry pictures seem about right. It’s January and not very vivid here right now.

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Winter staple: Crispy Kale with Farro and Coconut. Big thanks go to Heidi Swanson for the introduction to this tasty treat: here’s the recipe.

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I’m investigating canning and preserving the plentiful fruits and vegetables the family grows. Plus, I love Smitten Kitchen.

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Trying to get the kids outside is a battle. We’re all still sick, although my lung problems are improving. Yay!

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New Year, Less Clutter, Part 1

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New Year, Less Clutter, Part 2

What’s going on where you live? Join the party by linking to your post in Pam’s comments!

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Filed under cooking?!?, Discovering joy

Food: Italian Style

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First of all, thank you all SO much for your incredible feedback. I really appreciate you sharing what subject matter you like (and don’t), and honestly, I was so touched that many of you said you liked my voice regardless of the subject matter. Feedback received: and I will continue my Faces of ALI project for sure.

So, onto another random tangent then? 😉 This time, FOOD. Specifically, the food of Italy. Why is it SO GOOD there? Is it possible to replicate it here?

I am very lucky because Darcy has some rock star foodie friends. I’m not allowed to tell you who they are (Chinese walls and all that) but I AM allowed to share their fantastic recommendations for your next trip to Rome. Or, your virtual trip.

We got a lot of advice on Roman food before we left. The necessities to try (antipasti, spaghetti carbonara, gelato, cream puffs and the unique pizza made with potatoes) and most hilariously from one of Darcy’s contacts: tourist trap places to AVOID. When I was napping off jet lag, Darcy got some gelato and it was subpar. I said: “Did you go to that place x told us not to go, Blue Ice?” Sure enough, he had.

Our first meal was near the Trevi Fountain (tourist trap central) at Ristorante La Tavernetta 48, but it was off the beaten track: we followed pretty oil lamps down a tiny lane to find it. I ordered homemade gnocchi, a favorite of mine, but the best part of the meal was the appetizers. Zucchini flowers stuffed with mozzarella and delicately pan fried:

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And anchovies. These tasted NOTHING like anchovies I’ve ever had before. They didn’t taste fishy or salty or smell bad: they were light and flavorful, almost like small rainbow trouts. They were served with greens and fresh herbs and olive oil, and were delish.

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There was a local bakery near our hotel (Hotel Eden) and we ate there every morning. I don’t remember the name of the place, but we began to befriend the locals we saw there: the same people were there every day. I don’t drink coffee so instead indulged in hot chocolate which tasted different: lighter, frothier, more delicate. LOVED. And we ate different pastries each day. Roman pastries were not particularly sweet. (Which I liked: I don’t like my sweets TOO sweet, YMMV). My favorite was the cream puff: light crunchy puff pastry encased a light, lemony cream made of ricotta. YUM.

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For my birthday lunch we went to Pipero Al Rex, a restaurant that had just that week received a Michelin star. Oh, it was heavenly. I ordered their famous Pasta Carbonara and it was the best dish, hands down, I had in Italy. Pasta Carbonara is one of those deceptively simple things: spaghetti, egg, bacon, lemon and pepper: but again, the quality and preparation of those simple ingredients was such that a sublime meal was created. The pasta in particular was al dente and just tasted different (and better) than any other spaghetti I’ve ever had.

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For my birthday dinner, we ate at the exquisite restaurant on the top of our hotel, which was called La Terrazza dell’Eden. It was FANCY and the view overlooked the Vatican and other beautiful sites. We ordered Lobster and pasta and it was delicious and sophisticated. We drank champagne and felt rather fabulous.

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After touring the Forum and doing a ton of walking the next day, we went to a cheap take-out place (almost a bakery) famous for its potato pizza (yes, really!) called Forno Campo de Fiori. The potato pizza was delicious and we ate siting on a fountain in the middle of the flower market. We dashed in and out of Forno a few times to get “just one more slice”…

We left Rome for Naples the following day. Naples is a tough town: as we were taking a cab to our hotel, in the middle of the day, I noticed a young couple arguing intensely on the street. Suddenly, the woman hauled off and SLAPPED the guy across the face! In front of tons of strangers! He walked away but soon returned, gesticulating madly, trying to apologize, it seemed. He must have really done something to piss her off.

Naples is pretty much acknowledged to be the best place in the world for pizza, and Darcy’s food connections all agreed: the best pizza in Naples was served at Pizzeria Starita. We had to take a cab up winding, narrow, medieval streets: the steepest I’ve ever seen, and I’ve lived in San Francisco. Finally we arrived at a tiny restaurant that was very crowded. We were lucky enough to score a table, and readers: the pizza was perfection. The best I’ve ever had: simultaneously liquidy and crispy. I kept it simple and ordered the Margharita.

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Amazing.

After touring Pompeii, we moved on to Positano, possibly the most beautiful town I’ve ever visited. Perched on a stark cliff, the hotels and homes are architechtural feats of engineering and also charming and picturesque.

Sometimes when you travel you wander into a cliche: such was the scene when we went to the restaurant Mediteraneo. Darcy captured the cinematic moment perfectly in this short clip. That music is NOT ADDED IN: it was actually PLAYING at the time! It was like some romantic comedy come to life.

Cliched or not, the pasta was delicious here: Darcy ordered this homemade seafood pasta dish after seeing it be delivered to two locals and I ate spaghetti with tomatoes and eggplant.

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And so…I am now very hungry and wish there was a way to recreate that spaghetti! Do you have any Italian dishes that are your favorites? What are they? And please direct me to any good recipes you know of for authentic delicious meals 🙂

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Do You Like Baked Treats?

My friend Justine lives in New Jersey, a state hit hard by Sandy. She’s seen the devastation of the storm firsthand (many are STILL without power, even now) and so she’s helping by hosting a nationwide bake sale to aid Superstorm victims. It is now LIVE. Bidding closes at 11:59 PM EST TOMORROW, Monday November the 26th.

From Justine:

“Though the headlines have begun to fade from the national media, the work to rebuild in New Jersey has barely begun. Many people, especially those at the shore and in Staten Island, are still without power, weeks after the storm. Cleanup will take months. Families have been displaced, forced to leave their homes.”

Sandy victims still are reeling. And I want to “bake a difference.”

I am making the zucchini bread that I featured here. I can make it with or without chocolate chips. Please feel free to bid here! 🙂 If zucchini bread isn’t your bag, there are tons of other mouth-watering treats. (Blondies, cookies, gingerbread people, chocolate peanut butter fudge, and lots more.)

As part of Cyber Monday, please consider buying some delicious treats, or you can donate directly through Justine’s site to the United Way fund for victims. Also, if you want to share this bake sale on FB, Twitter, Pinterest, etc, I’ll love you forever 🙂 Share buttons below.

Let’s help Sandy victims get back on their feet.

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Whither Thanksgiving?

I LOVE Thanksgiving. With my family, it was always a holiday devoted to eating. And eating family recipes with unique traditions. I love Thanksgiving because it is a holiday I can bring my own family traditions and history to. I even have a relative who came over on the Mayflower. So many of the holidays we celebrate now with Darcy I don’t have a childhood connection to.

Nothing in the world tastes better to me than my parents’ cooking. My parents are arriving for a visit right after Thanksgiving, so I won’t be able to enjoy their special cheese biscuits and the best mashed potatoes and gravy EVER. This year, I’m BRINGING mashed potatoes to Thanksgiving at my in-laws because the twins enjoyed them so much at my parents’ house last year.

I remember growing up thinking that Thanksgiving was a THING. After Halloween, there was a lead-up to the big MEAL. Thanksgiving reminds me of hikes through the gold and vermillion trees on Shady Lane while my Mom’s turkey cooked. We bundled up in big scarves and enjoyed the crisp autumn air.

This year especially, I have noticed that November now seems to be relegated to Christmas, too. I wonder why that is? I remember the day after Thanksgiving my mom would put on the Nutcracker album and we’d trundle off to The Village and deal with battles over parking spaces because we needed to get our packages off to my grandparents by December 7. But we never decorated or listened to music before that.

I’m not particularly annoyed about it, except, OK, maybe I am. I don’t celebrate Christmas anymore but like Charlotte York, I do miss it. So for it to creep into November and overshadow Thanksgiving, my FAVORITE HOLIDAY, kind of hurts my feelings. Don’t even get me started on my birthday.

Do you like Thanksgiving or is it just a waystation to the main event? And I hope I don’t hurt anyone’s feelings here: I grew up with a dad who took the War on Christmas VERY SERIOUSLY so I know the other side of the coin. I just really want to know: Is Thanksgiving now less important to American society?

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