food

Morsels

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 11.00.46 AM My husband and I had our blindfolds on, nervously waiting. This was not some class in tantric technique—we’re not flexible enough for that—but rather an evening of a seven-course meal, in the dark. We were to experience food in a new way, let our senses lead us. A waiter leaned in and whispered with some sultry accent in my ear: “It’s just in front of you. You will need to bring it slowly to your mouth.” I told my husband “I’m afraid it won’t fit in my mouth.”

“That’s what she said,” he replied and we giggled.

I opened my mouth, not wide enough at first, but then I adjusted. There was a slight roughness against my tongue, and the familiar crisp of bread. Slightly crusty on the outside, with a pleasant give to my teeth. Then a rush of the most amazing butter I have ever had. A mind-blowing butter. A butter of the gods. Rich, creamy, slightly salty. My body reacted immediately. I actually started to salivate. Or…that might have been the melted butter coursing down my chin. (Let’s hope it was the butter.) I chewed and atoms collided. Atoms are always colliding, I know, but this time I could feel them. “That’s the best toast I’ve ever had,” I said. When we removed our blindfolds, we saw the crostini in front of us, and the smooth layer of not butter, but of bone marrow. For a woman who waxes vegetarian, I couldn’t wrap my head around it. “I think my brain just expanded,” I said. My husband laughed and said: “Feels kinda good doesn’t it?”

When speaking of love, we talk of our hearts and our souls and the people who share our space and life. We speak of the first kiss, the first time, the first loss. We know that dating is different somehow than marriage and a marriage somehow weaves two separate people into a single unit, that friendships are transformative, that children are maddeningly magnificent. But our hearts and minds also can be shaped by other things: experiences, travel…and food.

There have been pivotal moments in my life where I have felt a continental shift in my spirit caused by a mouthful of food. A shift in my ideas, my understanding, and sometimes of my passion.

I was raised in Michigan. My favorite childhood meal was Swanson’s Frozen Chicken, Mashed Potatoes, Corn and Brownie. The brownie was important. A close second for my favorite dinner was Chipped Beef, made by frying lunchmeat in butter, making a slurry of milk and flour, warming it all up and plopping it on toast. As a teen, my sister and I would make Hamburger Helper’s Tuna Pot Pie and hope that no one would want seconds so we could have it again for breakfast. My culinary landscape was populated by Nestle Quick and Tater Tot Casserole. I had never heard of curry. I lived in a world that was flat and populated by casseroles.

In college, I tasted sourdough for the first time. I did not believe my roommate when she told me the bread was perfectly good. “There’s nothing wrong with it! They make it this way on purpose!” I took a small bite and broke out into a sweat. “Why would anyone want sour bread?” I asked. I truly wanted to know. “It doesn’t make sense!” Later that night, I would dream of ripping the bread into little bites and popping it in my mouth so my tongue could wrestle with it. That bread brought a part of my taste-buds alive…a part of me brought to life that I didn’t even know existed. My roommate would later catch me with my own loaf of sourdough bread purchased at the Spartan store. We did not speak of it, but nodded in understanding.

I tried goat cheese and pesto on a brick oven pizza in Stratford, Canada during their Shakespeare festival. I ordered it because it sounded smart. I figured smart people watched Shakespeare and if they ate goat cheese, then I would eat goat cheese too. I sipped an Orangina with it and felt like I was drinking culture.

When I lived in Miami for a brief time with my then-fiancé, I tried plantain chips and Cuban coffee. My lips tingled. They ached. I asked for more. My boyfriend had a friend in grad school who wanted to cook us a traditional Indian meal. I thought that meant there would be something with Maize. I didn’t understand what chick peas were and cilantro tasted slightly of soap, but something in me quivered. It wasn’t indigestion, but a sort of joy unfurling, the way flower petals unfurl in the early morning. I tried spicy potato samosas, and poppadums that were like crisp paper with a hint of heat. Tator tots did not exist in my world anymore. I fell asleep to the rise and fall of lassis and chutneys, or picadillo and peppers.

Each new food I experienced challenged me to the core. It made me question my understanding of my environment and even myself. The world was far more vast than I expected and understood, and my own body was capable of feeling and experiencing things that I’d never thought existed. It was like seeing new colors in the rainbow, without being on LSD.

When I returned to Michigan, I worked in a high-end restaurant. Each night, we would try a new wine. At first I gagged on the taste. A chardonnay that was so oaky it creaked seemed to lodge in my throat. But gradually, as my palate grew accustomed to new universes, I could taste lemon, and cantaloupe, blackberries, cherries. I could taste summers and rain, and sometimes I would cry. Food…this kind of food and experience…could make me swoon. There should be more swooning in one’s life, I think.

I would taste beef wellington, tapas, pad thai and green curry so creamy and spicy that it could cure your cold. In France, I tried delicate macarons that were never too sweet, and salad with a dressing that combined mustard with shallots.

Food would become something that marked occasions: the crusty cornmeal pizza on the shore of Lake Michigan where we watched the meteor shower as the waves rolled against the sand; the Christmas where we ordered a Turducken with Cajun seasoning and got drunk on Mai Tais while the kids decapitated a reindeer piñata and pranced around with it a la Lord Of The Flies; the wedding where my husband and I created a menu of appetizers to appeal to the meat-eating-vegan-loving-gluten-free-carbo-loading-lactose-intollerant-lactose-loving mixture of our two different worlds colliding.

Food became a language for me. A way to connect not just with others, but with the tiny tendrils of my hungry little spirit. Food taught me to move past boundaries. To explore. To endure. To live fully and with joy.

I still make Tater Tot Casserole. It reminds my kids of camp, and it reminds me of where I started and who I was. I have a Pinterest board that is populated with recipes from every cuisine imaginable. They are my ticket to keep my brain expanding and reaching out, even as my waistline probably does the same. Good food, shared with a loved one, or on your own, is truly transformative.

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 11.04.15 AM

This spring, we picked Morels in the lush Michigan woods and came home smelling of fresh leeks and trillium, those delicate white flowers. I sliced the morels in half and soaked them in a water bath laced with salt to draw out the bugs. I melted the butter, dried the morels, and slid them lovingly into the pan. I watched them tremble in the pan, shivering into a smaller morsel, collapsing into themselves, transforming from earth to delicacy before my eyes. When they were glistening and streaked with golden edges, I spooned them onto plates, and sprinkled them with salt. My husband and I ate them, our eyes wide open, nodding to each other that this, this simple act of eating, was a beautiful thing, and something for which to be deeply grateful.

At Last! The Frenchie Food Post!

I’m sitting in a pair of rose pajama bottoms and a tank top, drinking a cup of coffee from my favorite pottery mug, listening to the terrifying sounds of Cthulhu in my walls, and I can’t tell you how good it feels to be home typing on my blog. In theory, blogging from an iPad sounded like a great idea. (We’ll have less to carry! You won’t have to be paranoid about your computer!) But in practice, it was like trying to blog on a Speak N Spell.

Anyway. We’re back. I’ve been suffering from jetlag and other issues…but I’ll cover that later. This blog is all about the food. Frenchie Food.

FRENCHIE FOOD

 

Now, I have to say, we never ate at one of those fancy schmancy places. We had a chance to eat at Gordon Ramsay’s restaurant at our hotel (The amazing Trianon Palace in Versailles) but we just couldn’t stomach spending $200 Euros on one meal. That’s like a MILLION dollars or something in American money. We just couldn’t do it. Plus, we were too busy.

Mostly, we stuck to finding little cafes that had both French and English printed on the menu. And there were thousands of them. Some better than others. You can tell that Paris is a home for beleaguered world travelers because there are restaurants everywhere to serve them.

TWO THINGS I LEARNED

 

1) Brasserie is a CAFÉ, not a bra shop. I’m relieved because a baguette simply couldn’t cover my cha chas. Two baguettes maybe could. And a croissant. But then I’d be attacked by pigeons.

2) Bathrooms in busy downtown Paris restaurants are gross.

After we figured that out, we were on our way to eating. Here are some highlights:

REAL FOOD

There’s just plain more REAL food in Paris. Like things aren’t packaged and ziplocked and flash frozen and reconstituted. They’re like REAL. Freshly squeezed orange juice for breakfast every morning was a revelation. Sandwiches made on bread they baked that morning…amazing. Eating a crepe made fresh before your eyes…awesome.

SWEET & SALTY

 

 

Sweet things are less sweet; salty things are less salty; there’s more vinegar and less sugar in mayonnaise and ketchup. I think this goes back to the food being real. If food is real and less processed it doesn’t need tons of sugar and sweetener. In fact, we’re sure they used real SUGAR and not corn syrup. One taste of a dense glace (ice cream) and you’ll be astounded that the ice cream you’ve been eating from your freezer isn’t real at all. It’s like discovering that you’ve been celebrating Christmas all wrong and it’s way more awesome!

FRENCH LIKE MEAT AND SAUCES AND FRIES

 

Now I don’t know if this was for tourists, and I think it probably was, but it was like every French dish (beef burgundy, baked chicken, sausages) came with fries and a salad. No salt on the fries. And there was a lot of meat, everywhere. For a girl who waxes vegetarian 70% of the time, that was a lot to stomach. Literally. And every salad had the same dressing on it—what I like to call the…

INTERNATIONAL SALAD DRESSING

(See above picture of the sandwich and salad.)

Every salad had the same dressing wherever you went, with slight variations. There were no options. The dressing basically (from what I could taste and from asking) had Dijon mustard, olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper, maybe some garlic. I’m going to whip some up soon.

BREAKFAST BUFFETS ARE GREAT

 

Best breakfast buffet was at the Trianon Palace of course, but all our hotels offered pastries but also cheese, vegetables, smoked fish, etc. I don’t feel as freaky anymore for eating curry for breakfast.

VARIETY

A surprising thing to me was that I started to miss the variety of food at home. Every menu we saw was pretty focused with few choices. I sorta like the menus here with cuisine from all over the world served at one restaurant. And I would’ve liked some smashed garlic potatoes or some other kind of side dishes.

GOOD, BUT I CAN’T EAT LIKE THE FRENCH FOREVER

There’s a diet book for women called something like “Eat Like The French and Lose Weight”. I can see why. With sauces that are so rich, salads topped with sliced beef, pates served at breakfast, you don’t need to eat A LOT. After a while, I just wanted some plain old rice, or a taco or something. I couldn't eat like the French, but I sure could hang out at a cafe and just watch people like they do.

 

THE MORAL

I’ll take some ideas home with me. I’m going to start baking bread again. Maybe buy an ice cream maker. I’m going to make crepes with eggs and ham and cheese. First cook the crepe, then cook the egg RIGHT ON TOP OF THE CREPE. Magic! Then you fold it all up. Crepes aren’t just for Nutella and strawberries and crème, apparently.

As soon as my stomach gets back to normal, I might also cook some beef burgundy or escargot. I know HOW to do it, I’m just usually too LAZY to do it.

First things first though: Kealoha is going shopping today for a bag of oranges and then we’re toasting our return home with some good, pure, REAL juice.

Bon appétit, or as we like to say in our house, eat up ya dirty bastard*.

*We only say that when my mom visits. Just cuz, ya know, humor.

On Pringles, My Kids, And General Mom-crying

PROLOGUE (skip this if you just want the current story) I spent a good portion of the evening crying last night. Meh. It happens. I think everything just finally piled up and all the stress had to go somewhere. It was either tears, or eat an entire pint of chocolate peanut butter ice cream. If we’d had chocolate peanut butter ice cream in the house, I probably would’ve gone that way.

First off, we have to go back a little bit. I haven’t had a real vacation of relaxing and recharging since I left my marriage. So that’s over two years. I had two trips to New York. One I took my niece to and developed a tooth infection and needed a root canal. And the other I went there to pitch my 4th novel. They were fun trips, but not relaxing.

If you go back further, then I haven’t had a vacation since being pregnant with Louis. So…almost seven years. (Although why I would need a vacation when I didn’t have kids, I can’t quite figure out. What do childless people do with all their time? Don’t take offense. I just mean I’ve forgotten what life was PreKids.)

Keep in mind that I’ve been working my butt off since having kids, but particularly these last two years where I managed to start over from nearly nothing….except $600 from my ex and a couple of narration pay checks in the mail. Over these last two years, I’ve started teaching full time at a college (they just renewed my contract for a third year), bought a house, written two books, found daycare for the kids, tended them, nurtured them…and re-met and fell in love with a great guy. I’ve accomplished a lot.

THE CURRENT STORY

I’ve also realized (especially over the last month) there’s only so long that you can keep running before you collapse. I’m not collapsing, but I am exhausted.

It makes the conversations I’ve had with my ex and his wife this week that much harder to bear.

Now, I’m not attacking them. I try really hard to empathize with their perspective and choices, and I usually do a good job. But my ex called me shocked to hear that I had given our son Pringles.

Pringles.

He’s upset because I shouldn’t give the kids processed food and he doesn’t want them to be overweight and the food industry is manipulative and controlling and I should know better than to give toxins to our children especially when they have allergies.

Yes. I admit, in times of weakness, I let the kids have snacks. I don’t have time anymore to cook everything from scratch. When I was a stay-at-home mom and in a marriage that was ultimately too controlling and confining, I cooked EVERYTHING. From homemade bread, to snack crackers, to roasts, to whipped cream. If I could’ve milked the cow, I would’ve.

I’ve since learned that life is about balance. While I try to encourage my kids to make healthy choices, I also don’t want to control their diet so fiercely that they’re terrified of gaining too much weight or they eat a diet that is so bland (and free of salt, fat, and wheat products) that when they get out into the ‘real world’ they go crazy. I also need to balance out my own time. I can’t cook everything anymore. Not when I’m working two jobs (teaching and narrating), writing, exercising, and trying to stay sane.

Sometimes the kids get PRINGLES. I’ve also given them GUMMIE BEARS. This week for dessert, they had SMORES. I have, on occasion, taken them to MCDONALDS.

I don’t think I’m an evil person for doing this. I think I’m a normal working mom who is doing the best for her kids. I make mistakes, but it’s not out of neglect. I also want the kids to know that life is about balance. If you have a treat some time, then be a little more active and eat some more fruits and veggies.

You know my kids’ favorite meal? It isn’t McDonalds. I haven’t ruined their palates forever. In fact, I’m shaping their palates to be pretty discerning and appreciative. Their current favorite meal is homemade chicken strips with panko and sesame seeds, edamame, and Chinese noodles.  I’m proud of that…and I’m proud of the way I’m raising my kids.

There’s more to this story though…the other part of the crying fit had to do with allergies, our cats, and trying to make a decision that’s right for my kids and our family…all while being pummeled and criticized for being a selfish parent.

Trust me. I’m not a selfish parent. I love my kids deeply and I’ve done everything I can to give them a loving, stable life. I do the best I can.

Thankfully, in two more weeks, I’m taking a real vacation. No kids. No teaching. No narrating. Just time to recharge and reassess. And possible, quite possibly, eat some PRINGLES. I like the sour cream and onion ones the best.

 

 

 

Random Thing #5: WANT

#6  

I want waffles and bacon and crème brulee and ribs and biscuits lathered with butter and flourless chocolate cake and a mojito and this hazelnut cake log I make and Oh, sheesh, I'm now thinking about all the wonderful dessert logs there are  and then laughing at how anything can be called a log and yet still be appetizing.

Ok.

So back to what I want: chocolate truffles, an agent (but not to eat) and homemade ravioli stuffed with goat cheese, and stuffed polenta, and stuffed mushrooms, and I guess I just want things STUFFED and I basically want to eat everything I've posted on my abandoned food blog I want to eat all of it (except the agent) and not gain a single pound. Please?

 

That concludes my Day Of Random Things, because I actually have to get ready for narrating. I have to find my diva crown and pack up a vat of hummus. *sigh*

Seduction Pasta-Step 1) Get Your Man Drunk

I’m a bit of a contest freak. I don’t know why. I just love the possibility of winning something. I rarely win, but it’s that lovely shiny possibility of winning that’s so fun. I’ll buy a lottery ticket and not check the winning numbers for weeks just because maybe, just maybe, I’m walking around a millionaire and not even aware of it.

What does this have to do with anything? Well, Susan Mallery, a New York Times bestselling writer and an author I narrated three books for, has a contest on her blog where you can send in an original recipe and win $300 to Williams Sonoma. So many things are exciting about that. Then I thought, I should have a contest on my site…but I am not a New York Times bestselling author and parting with $300 is akin to taking blood from me, something I am not willing to give up. So instead of holding a contest, I entered hers.

Here’s my entry. Why am I sharing it? Because it’s ridiculous and it made me laugh. I rewrote a simple recipe that’s one of my standards for company, seduction, and even when I have the kiddos. See? It’s multi-faceted and I can even make it while drinking and nervous. (Except I don’t do that when I have my kids.) So here’s my entrance into Susan Mallery’s contest. If it doesn’t bring me $300, it at least brings me possibilities. If you make this, may it either bring your love or at least a good fling.

SEDUCTION SHRIMP PASTA

AKA Roasted Shrimp with Pasta and Some Lemon

INGREDIENTS

1 pound (17 to 21 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined

1/8 cup olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ pound pasta (fettuccini, spaghetti, or angel hair)

2 tablespoons butter

1 lemon, zested and juiced

pine nuts (optional)

parsley and parmesan cheese (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Get your man drunk. This accomplishes two things. First, if you’re a bad cook, he’ll be so tipsy he won’t notice. And second, if he’s drunk and his vision is blurring a little bit, then you have an instant face-lift and thigh slimmer. It’s awesome.

Boil water for your pasta. Don’t stare at the water. It takes a long time to boil. Have a glass of wine.

If you forgot you were going to cook tonight, defrost shrimp by running cold water over them. (But put them in a colander first.) Pretend like you planned this. Drink your wine.

Toss shrimp with olive oil. If you wear a tight t-shirt and a short skirt, you can add a little pizzazz by ‘accidentally’ dropping a shrimp on the floor and bending over seductively to pick it up. Say “Oops!” and then toss the shrimp back in with the others. This will prove you’re tough. Your man will be impressed, unless you hit your head on the stove, so drop the shrimp away from the stove.

Place oiled shrimp in one layer on cookie sheet and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Have some wine.

Roast the shrimp for 6 to 8 minutes, just until they're pink and cooked through. Your water should be boiling about now. If not, don’t curse. Just wait. That mother will boil eventually. Have some wine and blink rapidly at your man in a seductive way. Try to make it look seductive and not like you have a facial tic.

While the shrimp roasts, cook your pasta. While that’s happening, you can get your lemon naked. This involves zesting the lemon. You can have your man zest it, or you can do it. Whoever is less drunk as a zester could be considered heavy machinery.  Juice the lemon too.

When the pasta is done (read the directions to know when) drain it, and toss with the lemon juice, butter, a little salt and pepper. You can add a little of the pasta water if you remembered to save some. If not, throw in some wine if it’s white. Don’t throw in beer. That would be bad.

Now add the shrimp and toss on some pine nuts and parsley and parmesan if you want to be fancy. If you’re too drunk to be fancy, just put the shrimp pasta in a big old bowl. You can sit down and share the pasta or have two plates. Give your man a chunk of bread. If you’re drunk at this point, don’t use a knife. Just rip that bread bastard with your bare hands. You’re a woman. You can do this.

Eat your pasta suggestively. If you need me to spell this out for you, then immediately buy a romance book for instruction.

If your man isn’t entirely in love with you after this dish then he’s crazy, not worth it, or simply a kosher Jew. You know, the whole shellfish thing. I recommend finding out if your man is Jewish before serving this seductive dish. I’m sure you could substitute cooked chicken if you needed to.

Enjoy!

Other New York Highlights

Now that I’ve had twenty-four hours back at home and have hugged and squeezed my kiddos until they stopped breathing for a second (don’t worry. When I let go the air returned to their lungs) I can now look back on the trip to New York and say with utter sincerity: it was fucking awesome.  

Sorry for the profanity there, but sometimes, a girl just has to use it.

 

This was the first trip for me and Kealoha. I felt pretty confident that we’d be okay travelling together, but you just never know. You  can love someone but as soon as your trapped in a plane, a taxi, and a hotel room with them, you can end up wanting them to spontaneously combust or something, so much so that you say “Here, have another drink!” That didn’t happen once. Not once! I actually liked having him with me. We joked that he was my support team, but it’s true. He’d get us coffee in the morning, print things I needed for the conference. When I was brain dead and couldn’t think, he took care of finding us someplace to eat. But he didn’t control anything. In fact, when I was adamant about where the subway was and he knew I was wrong, he walked with me the extra five blocks until I saw the truth for myself, and he didn’t even rub it in. Man, what a good guy.

 

So here are some highlights:

 

CUBAN RESTAURANT

 

On our first night there (I think) we walked around Times Square (see previous post for me and an M&M). It was loud and bright and filled with people and has that peculiar energy that I’ve only experienced in New York. I don’t know what it is. It’s gritty excitement mixed with awe. We walked and walked and then found this cool Cuban restaurant. They pulled us in with their neon sign. The mojitos made us fall in love. Not with each other, we’ve already done that, but with the restaurant. The mojitos came with mint and real sugar cane. And the dinner was delicious. I sometimes feign vegetarian, but this was not the place for that, although you’d have a perfectly fine veggie dinner. No. The evening called for meat and I had me some fine picadillo. It’s a spicy meat mixture with olives. That doesn’t sound appetizing, so they call it picadillo.

 

PLAY DEAD

The next night was St. Patrick’s Day and people were pretty much drunk on the streets by 9AM. If you wanted to hear a good New Jersey accent, this was the time. I don’t know how many times I heard people shout into a phone “Are you fuckin’ kidding me? No fuckin’ way!” Or “We’re on MacDougal street. I said we’re fuckin’ on MacFuckinDougal Street!”

 

I was exhausted from the conference and the last thing I wanted to do was see a play, but Kealoha had already purchased the tickets, so in we went.

 

“Play Dead” is sort of like visiting that creepy relative’s basement, or worse, visiting your creepy relative’s subconscious. It’s dark and cobwebby and sometimes the lights go out. You sit in total darkness and suddenly your mind kicks in and starts freaking you out. Hearing audience members scream doesn’t help either. At the same time, watching the magic on stage, hearing true ghost stories, is at once horrifying and titillating…and I think that’s good theater. Add to that the unknown of a little audience participation, and you’ve got a great night. And don’t worry. The blood washes out.

 

TIKI BAR AND FRIENDS

The next night we met my cousins Mike and Tessa and our friend Arnie. We ate at the Back Forty, an intimate restaurant with a lot of wood and the magic of Christmas lights. It was so warm out we sat outside in the garden area for dinner. This is where Kealoha ordered the deep fried pork jowls. With a little of the spicy jam, they weren’t bad, although Arnie was right, they were a little mushy. We had wine and fish and laughed a lot and then decided to go to this secret tiki bar Kealoha had researched.

 

At this point, I’ll be honest, I was a little tipsy. By the end of the night, I was just plain drunk.

 

The tiki bar was called The Painkiller, and it lived up to its name. It’s tucked on a dark street and the opening looks like any graffiti-ed wall, but when you go down the stairs you enter a bar that’s like a bamboo womb. Great music plays and they have an extensive menu of $16 drinks. It makes sense though. The drinks are enormous, packed with alcohol and real juice, and so good I had two. Well, that’s all I can remember having. We were joined later by New York friends Ryan and Tristan. I hope I didn’t drool.

 

Not drool over Ryan and Tristan, although they’re very handsome. Just drool in general. Sometimes I do that.

 

INDIAN RESTAURANT

 

The final night was just me and Kealoha. We were both exhausted, so we found the closest Indian restaurant, ate until we were stuffed and then waddled back to the hotel room. He rubbed my back and I fell instantly asleep.

 

So my trip to New York this time wasn’t marred by needing a root canal or doing anything terribly embarrassing…

 

Wait. I did moon the subway. I was wearing a green and black dress, walking shoes, and a mismatched sweater. I looked like Crazy Cat Lady again. A gust of wind tore through the subway lifting my skirt over my head and showing about a dozen people my very boring, almost granny-ish pink and white bikini underwear. So there was that.

 

At any rate, Kealoha and I came home to cats and kids, to knowing that we could endure travelling together, and I came home feeling a little more confident that someday, somehow, somewhere, I’ll have a book published by a big publishing house. Stranger things have happened.