Posts Tagged ‘Comfort Food’

Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and I’ve heard that more and more Americans will NOT be serving turkey this year! Millennials seem to be leading the charge/change to a more vegetarian diet, replete with seeds and nuts. Like squirrels.

Well, you can count me out – I’m a purist on “Turkey Day,” and will be assembling my famous corn bread stuffing along with plenty of sides for the main attraction. I tried talking Bob into making ravioli, but he feels his pasta needs a night all its own!

Since when did food become political? Tofurky aside, I remember my first meeting with two vegetarians in college (vegans came into being much later). They were purists, absolutists too, they didn’t wear leather shoes. I looked down at their feet, under the cafeteria table laden with plastic wrappers. Then they told me they wouldn’t use honey, unless they knew the beekeeper! In the 1970s I thought this was absurd, who would mistreat bees?

Ever since, I’ve abhorred anything in the extreme; politics, religion, whatever. I would never cook Kosher because I always ate meat on Friday! I hope you’ve seen that episode of Portlandia, the one where they are ordering dinner in a farm-to-table restaurant and they end up at the farm with the waitress!

Most of you know I’ll eat just about anything, except sushi. Raw sushi, aka bait. But it wasn’t until I read this fascinating article about the intersection of food and politics with a feminist slant that our current obsession with everything gastronomic made sense.

“…the eco-food movement, also known as the eco-gastronomy or alternative-food movement, was busy embracing the war on obesity, joining the front lines of the fight. And food became something to categorize — whole or processed, real or fake, clean or dirty — and to fear. Pretty soon almost every food and health writer I knew was dropping gluten or white sugar from her diet, then bringing it back, then dropping something else. Now that trend has gone mainstream; even my 88-year-old grandmother knows what gluten is and why half her family isn’t eating it on any given day.”  https://medium.com/s/story/how-the-eco-food-movement-mass-markets-eating-disorders-d0302e0e0b85

When we categorize a certain food as “good” or “bad” we are unleashing our inner critic and jumping on the “Oh I only try to eat (insert whatever word you like – whole, healthy, slow) food.” In the article, Virginia Sole-Smith, a self-described recovering food writer, admits that such extreme food restricting is another form of body dysmorphia. Many food writers, and bloggers as magazines and newspapers died, became nutritionists who would try to sell us some image of clean food that is linked to conservation and social justice; not just another vain attempt at losing weight through the latest diet scheme.

We can save the ozone layer if we only give up __________.

Save the ocean, only eat wild caught __________.

Once the organic farming movement joined forces with the health and wellness community, and Oprah took on cattle farmers, we were prime for a revolution. Food could cure just about anything! “The Global Wellness Institute, a nonprofit based in Miami, Florida, which conducts industry research, calculates that the worldwide “wellness economy” is now worth $3.7 trillion.”

The Bride and I were just discussing how easily integrative medicine, with an evidence-based practice, can slide into quackery. This was while I was drinking my chai tea, and after my T’ai Chi class!

The Flapper taught me that food is love… And So It Is… in all its pesky forms. There may be some “Toxic” chemicals you want to clean off veggies before serving – “Toxic” being the “Word of the Year.” And I was so sure it was going to be “Curate;” as in, you don’t have to be a museum director to curate things anymore.

If you haven’t watched “Salt Fat Acid Heat” on Netflix, you must do so NOW!! And for my Tuscany peeps – the first episode is in ITALY!!! https://www.netflix.com/title/80198288

Happy Thanksgiving to all y’all! Here is a picture from Italy which explains why I hope no one in our family will ever be vegan. All hail our Pecorino Cheesemaker



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Who can resist a Snickers shaped like a pumpkin masquerading as a Reese’s peanut butter cup?

It’s funny really, I’ve never had a sweet tooth. Never stored bars of candy in a drawer in the kitchen. Maybe that’s why Halloween was so sacred to my kids, and they milked it for as many years as they could. They knew which houses had the full-size candy bars and which gave out bags of raisins. 

The first time I said “No” to my baby Bride was in a check-out line at the grocery store. I was trying to be all “natural mom” back in the 80s. with real diapers and pureeing my own baby food in a Mouli grater. We even joined a food co-op from Vermont! I didn’t think I’d ever have to say the word “No” about anything, after all couldn’t distraction and/or avoidance solve most discipline problems? Turns out, there’s no avoiding that stack of candy within arm’s reach of a toddler determined to get her hands on some gummy bears.

Now put a bag of chips in front of me, and it’s a different story. I’m just a pushover for salt.

Which is fine, since it turns out that Americans ingest about 138 pounds of sugar a year, and that only serves to increase our risk of heart disease. Because a new study in the British Medical Journal suggests that sugar could be worse for us than fat – raising our cholesterol etc. It’s certainly always been good news for dentists,  Sorry Eric. Now we know something I’ve always known intuitively – grass-fed Irish cow butter is better for us than cookies! There, I said it. http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/health-news/top-heart-doctor-unprocessed-fatty-foods-may-actually-be-good-for-you-8897707.html

Don’t get me wrong. I’d much rather put a little real sugar in my coffee than an artificial sweetener. Sticking with real food can never lead us down that scary grocery aisle with processed homogenized cheese spread. I recently modernized the Flapper’s version of Depression mac and cheese when my Bug was visiting.

Mac and cheese please

Mac and cheese please

Since butter was scarce in the 30s, my Mom used bacon to start her scrumptious recipe and inserted slices of Swiss cheese from the deli. I found some Gruyere and shredded it instead. I can still remember her saying that she made this mac and cheese for my brother Michael, because it was his favorite dish. It turned out he was her favorite child.

And no matter how many times I said it was my favorite dish too, it didn’t matter. So when you watch this video poetry slam by Lily Myers about “The Shrinking Woman,”  “I have been taught accommodation, I have been taught to grow in…to create space around myself.” Think about how we too are entitled to calories, about how we women are worthy of filling that space. And pass the bread and butter please. 

You may have to click over to the wordpress site to watch the video, but believe me, it’s worth it.


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The first time I ever heard about a “meat and three” restaurant was while visiting the Bride after their move to Nashville. In all my time spent in New England, then later on the Jersey Shore, and even here in Central Virginia I’d never heard of the “meat and three.’ But right around the corner in the Bride and Groom’s neighborhood there it stood; a tiny shack that looked like it was about to be condemned, and like the infamous Grilled Cheeserie food truck, it has eluded me ever since.

You are supposed to pick a meat – beef, chicken, pork – and then choose three side dishes from a large assortment. These may include: slaw; fried corn; stewed apples; candied yams; mashed potatoes; black eyed peas; lima beans; collard greens; mac and cheese; you get the picture. Usually it is all served up with corn bread and sweet tea. This place was only open for lunch, but it was always packed with people and parking was a nightmare. It was surrounded by high-dollar, swanky joints that opened at night with $30 entrees and valet parking.

It’s surprising that the Food Channel doesn’t have some sort of segment on this classic Southern theme, unless that Diners and Dives show is supposed to be a way of blending the ubiquitous Northern diner, all shining steel and mirrors with pies in a turntable kiosk, with the meat and three. Its chef is Guy Fieri, who “…hunts down America’s best little-known greasy spoons and samples their can’t-miss menu items.” Although, when I think of a greasy spoon, it’s usually a breakfast place. Still, lunch like a mini Thanksgiving dinner is pretty good for about $7!

Sorry to say, this Nashville mainstay has closed. “The oldest meat-and-threes in the area, was also the most popular. No one would mind the worn floors, dusty windowsills or creaky booths.” It was a place where the waitresses were sure to call you “Honey” and make you feel right at home. http://www.meatandthree.com

Back at home, cooking for two requires just one exemplary side dish imho.  So I thought I’d share my favorite summer side du jour. One day in Whole Foods, I picked up a small container of cubed feta cheese and olives in olive oil with fresh herbs. So I decided to mix that with some chopped organic kale, chickpeas, local cucumbers, fancy white almonds and cherry tomatoes. I sprinkled in some fresh parsley from the deck, and poured on a little truffle flavored balsamic vinegar glaze with a pinch of Crazy Susan’s garlic salt and viola, it’s my Southern Cville side!   photo

It’s too late for me to visit Nashville’s meat and three. But I may have to learn how to bake a chess pie!

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I’m sorry to say, that while perusing Twitter I lacked the energy and inclination to watch SyFy’s new show Sharknado. It was all over my Twitter feed, but instead I linked to @KosherSoul’s Washington Post article in the first person singular. The man’s name is Michael Twitty, and I somehow found him when he wrote an article about Paula Deen. He is a Southern culinary historian and food blogger http://afroculinaria.com with a remarkably astute point of view!


“No one had to tell me about “organic” or “sustainable,” because that was the tradition that was passed down to me. My authenticity is not based on food trends; my authenticity is based on what August Wilson once called the self-sustaining ground of the slave quarter.”

His intention is to bring an awareness to our white Euro-centric society of our gastronomic roots in Africa. Most food cooked on plantations in the Antebellum South was not done by French chefs – even though Mr Jefferson did have a French chef give his slave/cook Edith Fossett  instructions: “1862 He (Jefferson) had a French cook in Washington named Julien, and he took Eda and Fanny there to learn French cookery. He always preferred French cookery. Eda and Fanny were afterwards his cooks at Monticello.” So you can see how French cooking did influence Virginia and Louisiana chefs in the future.

But mostly today’s Southern cuisine is the result of black enslaved women, who created wholesome, real food;  locally grown and harvested. They raised the cows, chickens and pigs that were slaughtered without drugs. They grew the vegetables and fruit without pesticides.

So I began to think of my own culinary history, born in PA coal country and nurtured in rural NJ. How is it that I managed to raise 2 children who became healthy, real food-types despite my own upbringing? My foster mother Nell cooked by can, usually Campbells. She was of that new-fangled, post-war generation that was sold a bill of goods. Look, we created a frozen TV dinner for you to just “heat and serve” to your family! Marketing was focused on making the happy 50s housewife’s life simple and easy. Where do you think that canned green bean special swimming in soup came from on Thanksgiving?

But Nell was first generation Yugoslavian, and she talked about her father keeping barrels of sauerkraut in their basement. Sometimes she would fry pork chops, but for special occasions, she would make “halupkes.” These are the most delicious little pillows of ground pork and rice, rolled in a cabbage leaf and simmered in sauerkraut. I adored this Slavic stuffed cabbage, with a passion. Even today, comfort food usually involves pork. But lucky for me, the Flapper loved to cook.

The Flapper was married first to an Italian man, then widowed and married to my Father, an Irishman. She married my step-father, who was Jewish, after I moved back into her house. Consequently, she was a proper global chef de cuisine. My pre-teen and teen years were filled with lovely aromas and real food. She baked banana cream pies, deviled eggs and put together a proper meatball and tomato sauce. She could roast, fry and broil just about anything using her Fanny Farmer cookbook. In fact, I think she only opened a can to get at some stewed tomatoes for her famous Depression-era mac and cheese, with bacon!

Nell taught me to cook with love on special occasions, and my MIL Ada taught me how to make a proper seder dinner. But the Flapper taught me to cook with alacrity, with whatever is in season, using the freshest possible ingredients. And this led to the Bride winning her Kindergarten Mother’s Day essay by “writing” about my mac and cheese and how I cook “from scratch,” even when I make PB & J sandwiches! Here are my herb planters on the deck.


The best thing I learned from the Flapper was always adding some TLC to any dish. What is your culinary history?

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Finally, Fall has arrived. Someone once said that a person’s favorite time of year is related to their birthday, which makes sense. Our whole lives we have been celebrating our birthdays, or at least until we’d rather forget them, and so we’ve become conditioned to “like” that time of year. It’s true in our family; the September babies love the Fall and the August babies adore Summer. Thought I would share this little kitten’s morning picture. She was born on a seasonal cusp, but I can already tell she has a preference for furry sweaters.

I wonder, will the Love Bug’s birthday party happen before school starts or after? This is a very big question since school levels the playing field and expands potential invitees. It will most likely depend on which part of the country our children decide to live in, whether school begins before or after Labor Day. I have pictures of birthday parties in 1950s Victory Gardens, they were small affairs with everyone wearing pointy hats, sitting around the kitchen table. Think about your Mother’s kitchen table. You’ve started back in school and the days are getting shorter. You joined a bunch of kids off the school bus, kicking leaves and slowly meandering your way home. You walk into the house and it’s warm, almost too warm compared to that crisp Fall day. But the smell of cooking is the first thing to hit you. It surrounds you and you melt into it.

My foster mother Nell stayed at home. Her generation was almost required to stay home if the husband could provide for the family. She once told me she worked for a short time at a store before she married, but she never learned to drive and so she was marooned in our little house. She seemed happy to me, but I wonder now. Her gift to me is priceless. Taking me in, loving me like I was her own child. And her comfort food can still make a bad day better. She made “Haloopkeys” (I have no idea how to spell it) – a Slavic dish of stuffed cabbage with pork and rice and cooked in sauerkraut, served up on a formica table with chrome legs. Every culture has a stuffed vegetable delicacy. And every person on earth has a memory of their mother’s kitchen table.

My Fall Table

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