It’s what I’ve been drilling into my children’s minds since they were tiny enough to eat a mushy pea.
My daughter came three years before her brother, so, naturally, she was subjected to these instructions first.
I’d say this about every food I placed in front of her, which back then, sat readily exposed in her plastic Barney dinner plate.
I was prepared. I’d read up on all the books. Books about those terrible twos and their picky eating habits. Kids that get hooked on deep-fried, over-processed remnants of chicken and pre-made frozen French fries laden with trans fats and, like little fast food addicts, can never kick the habit.
Mothers had also warned me with their battle stories of sautéed spinach tossed across the room, chunks of stew hanging off the chandeliers, or meatballs flung right into their faces as if their child was Roger Clemens pitching his famous dangerous splitter. There were endless sighs and moans and cries of horror from these women, women I respected, admired, looked up to, who suddenly sat in front of me defeated, with shoulders slumped and permanent stains on their shirts.
So I bought that plastic dinnerware set of Barney, my daughter’s favorite, and held my breath.
And much to my surprise, I watched her eat and not toss.
First it was taboule, heavy on the lemon and parsley, which she gobbled up with glee. If I paired it up with labneh it would be consumed even faster and with my daughter’s enchanting one-dimpled grin.
From that experience my confidence strengthened and I moved on to black beans. But not just any black beans, my nanny Yoli’s caraotas negras, a recipe that required hours of simmering the hearty legume with her famous sofrito of onions, garlic, tomatoes and green peppers.
As my daughter grew older, her demands for variety increased. Rarely did I have to ask her to try it, at least once.
There was baby octopus, sautéed in a pomodoro sauce, which she declared her all-time favorite food at age four. “The yummiest part is the tentacles,” she’d say, eagerly slurping them up.
If a preschooler is enamored with tentacles, you’ve nowhere else to go except to oysters, clams, mussels and snails, all of which were devoured faster than her peers could say “Happy Meal.” An empty plate would inevitably lead to those temper tantrums I’d read up about so fervently, but not because she didn’t approve of the dinner selection, because she wanted more.
Each time I nudged and introduced a new food, I was met by her sparkling enthusiastic eyes, adventurous spirit, and innate appreciation for world cuisine.
Roasted bone marrow.
Korean shrimp pancake.
Venezuelan tripe soup.
And then, she discovered foie gras.
Of course, my husband and I are to blame. “We created this,” he proclaimed (beaming, I might add), recalling that first moment her tiny hand grasped a sliver of Argentinean blood sausage and never let go. Our daughter, and later our son, have paid close attention to our passion for food and travel, becoming our culinary partners-in-crime, exploring the world with us and making the mandatory food stops I research and anticipate along the way.
In Paris, there was the lengthy line winding along Boulevard du Montparnasse for a chance to sample the legendary steak and frites at le Relais de l’Entrecôte. In the Basque town of Errenteria, there was the 6-hour culinary odyssey at the famed Mugaritz, a unique dining experience run by chef Andoni Luis Aduriz, the prodigy of Ferran Adrià, king of Molecular Gastronomy. In Marrakech, we made our way through the chaotic maze that is the Souk Semmarine and climbed up to the rooftop of a dilapidated structure where we dined on the finest lamb tagine, and in Johannesburg we came home with bags of biltong, a South African speciality of dried, seasoned game meat that quickly became my daughter’s favorite snack.
On our last trip to New York, I managed to land a coveted reservation at Prune, the tiny East Village restaurant of famed chef, Gabrielle Hamilton. As we studied the menu, our waitress placed a bowl of seasoned, fried chickpeas in front of us. My daughter was the first to grab a handful, pop them in her mouth, and then ask, “Mom, what are these?”
At fifteen, she was far from that toddler with the plastic Barney plate, learning about the wonderful pleasures of good food. Not once had I experienced the food ambivalence or rejection I had been warned about by those frustrated mothers so many years ago. Quite the contrary, my daughter has blossomed into a seasoned foodie, always willing and eager to try new things and quickly developing a growing repertoire of exotic favorites. I’m not sure if it was the excellent glass of Lebanese Château Musar that was already taking effect on me, but I suddenly started to tear up.
“Fried chickpeas,” I answered, beaming with pride.
“Hmmm. They’re awesome!” She replied, that one-dimped grin beaming back at me. “But we’re going to need a bigger bowl than that!”
2 15-oz. cans chickpeas, rinsed, drained, patted very dry
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
Combine paprika and cayenne in a small bowl and set aside.
Heat oil in a 12” skillet over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, add chickpeas to skillet and sauté, stirring frequently, until golden and crispy, 15-20 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer chickpeas to paper towels to drain briefly. Place in a medium bowl. Sprinkle paprika mixture over; toss to coat.
Right now, if you are reading this, you are probably escaping time with the in-laws.
I won’t bore you with my travels, just yet. I’ll wait til I return. Because quite frankly, I don’t give a damn about a computer at this second. I’m too busy winding my way down from Madrid to Morocco. I could be anywhere, really. I don’t even know myself. The blessing of a spontaneous family and a car. Anything can happen, but it all will come with good food. Promise. More later.
Right now, I leave you with deviled eggs.
They’re easy. Fun. And big party favorites. And really, they are one of those boring items you never get tired of. Do you get tired of them? Ever? Right? I mean, if you are feeling stuck, in a deviled-egg midlife crisis, you can always cheat on the traditional recipe and it will be fine: add chopped fresh herbs such as thyme, chives, or tarragon for a small and tasty shake-up or go all out and throw bacon bits, truffle oil, or anchovies for a more radical change. They’re all good. I’m quite old-fashioned when it comes to mine: give me some straight up deviled eggs and I am one happy queen of the party.
And then there’s the gym. Have you heard of that place? Horrible. People go and shvitz like it’s the coolest thing to do with one’s time. I personally hate all forms of exercise. My idea of being in a room full of sweaty, bopping people causes classic anxiety. Just isn’t fun. And not because they are sweating and bopping, but because they are all a good ten or fifteen years older than me and they are by far better than I am at it. Stronger. Resistant. Firmer.
Beautiful butts abound.
Yes, I look.
Perhaps it’s surgical. God, oh god, please let it be surgical. But maybe not. Maybe it’s exercise and celery sticks.
I tried that, temporarily, you see. I subjected myself to such cruelties (exercise and celery sticks) for an interminably long time (two weeks, folks) all in efforts to fit into my former jean size and restore normalcy. Then what did I do? Headed off to Spain to visit my sister and stuff myself freely. Think croquettes, croquettes, and more croquettes. Makes perfect sense, right?
And I came back a changed woman. Not in weight (actually, where could croquettes go but to my muffin top?) but in heart. A veil was lifted as I realized how absurd I had been surviving on tread mill and fiber, especially when life has such delicious things to offer, like croquettes and malls crammed with larger size jeans.
There were many hints of his impending betrayal, but, like any woman in love, I chose to look away. I had been swept off my feet, what can I say, a phrase that would definitely make all my self-sufficient Barnard colleagues shake their heads in disappointment and mutter only this to me: tsk tsk, tsk tsk. I was in love, maybe not with him, but most definitely with the idea of him: glamour, sophistication, and expensive lust. And we’d been together so many years, so when the smallest of signals blinked quietly but straightforwardly at me, I chose to look the other way.
First the brownies didn’t bake evenly. No one else could tell. In fact, all where mesmerized, entranced, absolutely orgasmic over my brownies. But I knew something was up with Dacor then. The baked batter leaned in a bit to the left on one side and out a bit to the right on the other, as if he hadn’t embraced the batter to cook it, but shaken it in turmoil instead. I always said I would tolerate no abuse from anyone, particularly to my babies and it was clear to me that my brownies weren’t happy. But everyone around me seemed so joyful, I didn’t want to spoil anything. So I did what any abused woman would do: I made excuses for him: it was a bad afternoon, a draft somehow upset him, I’d not cleaned him well enough the last time. I blamed everything else but him, after all, he was a Dacor oven.
Although I have two kids of my own, all the cakes I make are like my children: I whip their butter and sugar to fluffy perfection, I sing, and rock and caress their batters as I make them. Lulu, my red hot mixer can attest to this. There is enough love placed in those bundts, bars, and layers to make Mother Teresa proud. So when they kept coming out slightly off, I started building quiet resentment towards him, because as much as I wanted to please him, I knew it wasn’t me or the cake kids. He’d tell me the same, of course. He was the provider. Heat was always there. Convection too. Whenever I asked, he delivered. Everything else, according to him, was a figment of my neurotic imagination. The tension grew between us as I became colder and less responsive to his heat. He was always so unpredictable, why bother, I’d tell myself. He acted out during our time together. First he short-circuited his entire electronic panel and that had to be replaced. Then he blew a fuse as I broiled some salmon for dinner and the entire oven shut down. They were all strong messages of rebellion, much more applicable to a teenager than a full grown adult and I was patient. Very patient. Had parts repaired, wires changed, insides cleaned. Gave him what he needed, for the sake of the relationship. But lets not kid ourselves, we had grown apart.
I know what you advocates for Dacor are saying. That I was using him, that I only wanted him for his temperature. That I poured so much love into those batters just steps away from him and gave him none of that in return. That I had it coming. But to you I say this: the chemistry was never right. The whole relationship had been an illusion. From the pompous store in which I purchased him seven years ago, to the sophisticated buttons that always gave me a hard time (damnit what ever happened to knobs?), Dacor and I came from two very different places.
So, it was no surprise to me that, in between my two first big catering gigs, which happened to be back to back, one for Michael Scott Salon and the other for Shrink Rap, Inc., Dacor up and left me. No warning. No note. Nothing. He allowed me the broiler one last time for my Crostini with Fresh Ricotta, Lime and Mint and then he selfishly checked himself out of the relationship, leaving me to contend with the kids, the house, the parties, everything. The Dacor tech I called for help gruntled and grumbled that these parts where no longer available. Dacor just stopped making them. His voice was bristly and heavy with his own issues, I could tell he’d dealt with many a tempremental Dacors, and I had no desire to carry his anger as well, so I let it go at that.
It is a tough thing being left alone. You’ve got alot to deal with and shoulders are only so strong. And then there is the whole emotional part of being abandoned. It can be rough, very very rough. But in this instant, as pissed as hell as I was Dacor had pulled this stunt on me (what timing man!), there was a part of me that was elated. Liberated. Free. A burden had been lifted as I realized this relationship which I was supposed to adore and be in forever had been severed and I was free to move on.
All my feminists friends out there are still saying tsk tsk, you should have done it first, not waited for him to leave you. And you are right. But I say what happens next is what mosts matters. And so far, I’ve been dealing with the abandonment pretty well. For starters, I pulled off both parties and both were a huge success. I’ve been gracious to Dacor. Allowed him to quietly remain as I wait for Donovan, my new Sears buddy to come install the replacement oven. Donovan should be here any minute and I just know my new oven, maybe not a high pedigree name like Dacor but certainly a reliable hard working one, won’t fight with my batter but will embrace every bit of it. This kitchen is a kitchen of love. Otherwise, you’re out of here.
I have a confession to make.I’m not sure it’s the right one to do, this being an upscale [insert giggle] food blog with upscale food followers (right?) but nonetheless, if anything, I strive to be true to myself and my readers and so here it goes:I go to Costco to shop.
Sometimes.Rarely.But sometimes.On occasions maybe more than I should.But I go.Now, to my defense let me remind you all that I live in South Florida: Plantation to be exact, which is not necessarily your haven of food markets and such.Lightly put, this ain’t Santa Monica or Paris, both hosting amazing food markets. When I went to the Symposium for Professional Food Writers at the Greenbrier last April, I met Amelia Saltsman, author of The Santa Monica Farmer’s Market Cookbook and I was ready to hop in her suitcase and head home with her. Unfortunately, the closest thing to a food market for me would be Florida City (a 1 1/2 hour trek), and, most definitely on my way down to the Keys I’d make a wonderfully delicious stop there, but, on a day-to-day basis, driving such a distance for my produce wouldn’t make much ecological sense anyway, considering I am hauling around in a minivan (at least it’s not a huge truck or something). But with words such as organic, sustainable, and slow foods bubbling up to the awareness of the American eater, my Costco confession is not a good thing.
Some culinary folks would be okay with it, even helpful. Rachael Ray has tips on how to make shopping in warehouse stores less daunting. Other’s, like Oprah, try and encourage us to shop at our local greenmarket. But seriously, there is something about the size of the place that mesmerizes me (there I going being politically incorrect again).Now, I didn’t grow up in this country.As most of you know, I grew up in Venezuela, where, if you wanted bread, you went to the panaderia (bread shop), meat:carniceria (yep, butcher) and fruit, you’d head on to the fruteria (you got this one).Now all of these where situated in the cozy neighborhood of Chacao, a bustling maze of streets in Caracas filled with pedestrians, businesses and cars.It was a five minute walk from my house, and I would usually make the trip with my nanny, Yoli, and our steady rolling iron basket with dune buggy wheels imported from Spain.It was an afternoon of schmoozing with the neighbors, tasting samples of papaya, and picking up some unplanned sweet rolls merely because the had just left the oven and their aroma demanded purchasing.
So flash forward to Plantation, Florida and take pity on me please. It’s a lovely place. Serene and green. But nobody walks here.Nobody.In fact, I do believe South Florida, specifically Ft. Lauderdale (which is ten minutes from me) ranked as one of the most dangerous cities for pedestrians.It’s car zone here, whether you like it or not.First of all, it’s just so damn hot most of the time (I mean, we are in mid October and its 96 degrees outside).People like to be sealed in their cars, a/c blasting, music blaring, shut out from the world, entering and exiting their hermetically sealed universe via garage. So, step out of your suburban home and it would be no surprise to find no one but maybe an occasional aggravated dog walker obligated to be outdoors.
That being said, you can imagine the food situation isn’t optimal.Supermarkets abound, and I visit them regularly, so much so that everyone knows me there quite well.And then there is gleamingly large Costco.Now I am not a fan a warehouses in general, but when they are filled with food, I can’t help myself.And even as I walk in and am greeted by mountains of empty boxes (which shoppers use to pile on their bought goods (hey, at least no plastic bags, that’s good, right?)) I feel a pang of guilt reading what these empty boxes once stored:grapes from Brazil, avocados from Mexico, asparagus from Peru.Once viewed proudly as the United Nations of food, this stuff is deemed bad, bad, bad in the age of locavore, and I should know and do better as a food muse. I should. Except that some of the stuff is lovely.Big and plump and beautifully lovely and it’s not just the lighting of the place, I promise, it’s the actual stuff.
I am a good person, I am.And if I lived somewhere where I could get a plethora of local grown foods, I’d be the first in line (on my bicycle).But I am geographically challenged you see, and so I slip in here on occasion and go mad buying.Of course, why one person needs a box of 25 croissants is beyond me, but I grab it anyhow. This isn’t easy for me you know, and I’m not just talking about pushing the jumbo sized shopping cart and maneuvering through the waves of regulars.The whole experience is filled with conflict as I recall my shopping days in Venezuela and compare them to what I’ve ended up doing now. It’s a sense of failure of sorts, a resigned “this is what happens when you end up in the suburbs” pity bit, until I see the nice granny in the corner giving out samples of lobster spread and I jump with a big “ooh” and rush over to grab five crackers.She gives me a dirty look (proper etiquette assumes you are only supposed to take one) but I figure it’s all about excessiveness here, so why the hell not.
I find myself honing in on the tomatoes.I’ve spotted them from a distance and they look lovely- round and plump and just perfect.It’s still October, so, maybe I can convince myself it isa late, late summer crop and thus I can get away with eating them with a clear consience.I know this not to be true but I love tomatoes so.I check the label to see where they’ve come from:Canada.Close enough, right?We’re likebrothers, no?I make a mental note to move to California with Amelia and grab the package.As I maneuver around the cheeses I can’t resist the gigantic tub of mozzarella, imported straight from Italy.Ah, Italian mozarrrella. Me piace! How can one say no? I’ve already got the perfect meal in mind:insalata caprese. I’ll use my Portuguese olive oil, some of Mark Bitterman’s fabulous Kauai Guava Smoked Salt from his lovely store, The Meadow and then I’ll top it off with my own home grown basil, born in the USA.Yes, it would be a United Nation’s meal at my house (with our own representative present), and somehow the guilt began to ease as I viewed it more of a celebration of flavors meeting from all corners of the world, ending up in my home for one big, happy and tasty ending.