Sunday, December 5, 2010

Food Memories recorded at Flavors of Bedford

Flavorful Memories recently attended Flavors of Bedford and recorded several wonderful food memory stories.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

In Grandma and Grandpa's Kitchen

One of my most precious childhood memories is sitting in my grandparents’ third-floor kitchen watching them cook for our family. My grandparents had immigrated to the United States from Canton in southern China, and both my grandfather and my grandmother were absolutely amazing cooks—in fact, later in life they actually had quite a large roadside Cantonese restaurant! They lived in the apartment upstairs from us, so I spent time with them quite often. Just calling to mind those afternoons in their kitchen, with the warmth from the stove and the sounds of stir-frys sizzling in the large stainless steel pots, I can still smell each of the special dishes that they used to cook for us. Perhaps most incredible was the array of soups they made, full of exotic Asian ingredients – nuts, herbs, roots, bark, even flowers (and most of them medicinal, I would imagine). They are soups I have never seen in a restaurant or a cookbook, with ingredients one could never find in an ordinary grocery store here in the States! Only one of these soups can I approximate these days myself, however, since my grandparents cooked “by heart” based on their experiences growing up in their respective villages in China, and at the time we never thought to take down the recipes. It’s been many years now since my grandparents passed away – God bless them! How wonderful it would be if today I had a video recording of them in action in that third-floor kitchen, to vividly capture the sights and sounds of those special moments and enable us to preserve for ourselves and, now, the new generation of our family, those delicious and treasured parts of our Chinese heritage!
- Liz L-H

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Grandma Browning's Rolls

I know surprisingly little about my great great grandmother, Sophronia Louise Browning. But what I do know, what I have always known, is that these are Grandma Browning's rolls. Ever since I was a small child, that is what they have been called. Never dinner or yeast rolls, never simply bread, her name was always attached to this dough, like the recipe itself was consubstantial with her very being. For all I know she, too, learned this recipe from her grandmother, there is no telling how far it goes back. Maybe the Snow family brought it here with them from Europe on the Mayflower itself. There is no way of knowing. But what there is to know, is that there has never been a holiday dinner or important family gathering in the last one hundred fifty years which did not include these light, feathery rolls.

My grandmother Iris (or Grandma I, as we always called her) is the one who taught me the recipe. She would use this dough for everything. It was her all purpose dough. Cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, pizza crust, dough nuts, loaves of bread, bagels, anything was possible, nothing was out of the reach of its magic. About ten or twelve years ago, when her health began to deteriorate and she was no longer able to make the rolls for our gatherings, she passed the torch on to me, as it had been passed to her, and I have been making them for our family ever since. I, of course, have put my own modern spin on the recipe, as she no doubt did hers. In this way, it is a collection of all of us. All of our secrets, our tricks, our special touches, our memories, our happiness, our holidays.

My Kitchen Aid mixer now makes easy work of the kneading process. But as a child, standing on a stool, my hands on her cutting board, squishing the dough between my tiny fingers, I remember Grandma I smiling down at me, telling me that this was very special bread, that this bread had to be kneaded for exactly twenty-five minutes. No more. No less. And to this day, whether in the mixer, or by hand, I ensure that it kneads for exactly that long. If I close my eyes I can still remember the smell of her kitchen, the sound of her gentile, contented humming, the way she seemed to glide from counter to counter, as if in some elaborately choreographed food ballet.

Sadly, there will be no more carefree summer days spent baking bread with either of my grandmothers. But as I knead this dough, and stir my own batch of my grandmother's jam, I can feel myself stretch my hands back through our history. It is so tangible. I can feel them around me, these generations of women. And for the briefest moments I can feel that I am apart of them, and they of me.

We don't have inheritances in my family. We don't have trust funds, war bonds, stock market portfolios, or priceless antique furniture to leave behind. But we do have this dough: our own little yeasty legacy. This dough that has spanned at least five generations. This dough that has been with us all along. Delicious.

Jacob B.
Jacob's Kitchen

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Simple Salad, Lots of Memories

I'll start by explaining that, growing up, my parents made an effort to have us all sit at the kitchen table for dinner. But due to one conflict or another, they were not always successful with this.

On Friday nights, however, we always ate together. This was when we'd have Shabbat dinner, which my mom spent most of the afternoon preparing; baking challah bread, roasting chicken, boiling the matzo balls. I’d sit in the kitchen with her, and she would go over different techniques for how to make each dish. As soon as something was finished, she’d give me a little taste and ask me how it was. “Need anything?” she’d ask. “Nope. It’s perfect!” I’d reply.

That evening, the four of us would gather around the dining room table for dinner, which had been decorated in a linen table cloth and beautiful pink Depression glass. Candles were lit, prayers were said, and a feast was had.

One of the dishes I distinctly remember eating at every Shabbat dinner was Israeli Salad, a combination of chopped cucumber, tomato, lemon juice, and parsley. It was served with a hard boiled egg on top which, when mixed with the lemon juice, would create a thick dressing. An utterly simple and incredibly refreshing dish.
But more important than this recipe, which I have included below, are the memories that I have sitting around the table with my family, laughing and telling stories from our week. It’s not the food that is necessarily memorable (though, in this case, it was), but the experience of eating with one another.

Brian S.
A Thought for Food

Monday, June 28, 2010

Shelling Peas & Snapping Beans

I signed my kids up for the Sprouts program at my local farmer’s market today. The Sprouts program provides various kid related activities at the farmer’s market to encourage kids to participate. We faithfully head to the market in the downtown of our small college town every Saturday morning, where people know us and greet us. It is my hope my kids will grow up loving the entire process of bringing food to the table in the summer—from planting the seeds in the spring, to weeding and picking our own garden and yes even purchasing those items we do not raise ourselves from the local farmers who grow them. When we got home today we snapped the first green beans of the season, always a big deal in this household.

These things are important to me because they form such a strong core of my own childhood memories. From the smell of freshly baking bread every week in my mother’s home to picking strawberries and blackberries near my grandparents’ house, there are not many childhood memories for me that are not in some way permeated by food. And these memories always come back strongest in the late spring to early fall, when fruits and vegetables are pouring in from the garden.

As an adult cook, I get most excited for tomatoes, corn and berries, which to me are the holy trinity of foods that must be locally grown and fresh picked to be enjoyed properly. But the child in me revels in the peas and beans, because when I am shelling peas and snapping beans I am instantly and always transported back to my grandpa and grandma’s house. I can feel the sun on my back and the breeze in my hair—and the wind chimes are tinkling around me despite the fact that we have no wind chimes at our house. I can even hear my grandma’s screen door swinging open and shut. And maybe my grandma yelling at my grandpa because he just mowed her violets again—always a weed to him but never to her. And I am sneaking bites of fresh, raw peas—the best way to enjoy them, straight out of the pod, while my mom and grandma both admonish me not to eat them all.

Laura T.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Public Radio Kitchen Spotlights Flavorful Memories

Public Radio Kitchen, a food culture site coming to you from the folks at WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station has posted a great article about Flavorful Memories, including an interview with me about why I love working in this unique business. You can read the article at


Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Most Important Meal of the Day

I have special memories of breakfast when I was in elementary school, especially during the cold and snowy east coast winters.....Mom would have hot cereal steaming on the stove -- oatmeal one day, ralston or cream of wheat another. It smelled and tasted so good -- especially with milk and sugar and some cherrios or kix sprinkled on top. My brothers and I would read the stories on the cereal boxes while we ate -- a prelude to reading the morning newspaper, I guess. Oh and there was the added excitement of occasionally pouring out a 'prize' from the cereal box.

Ruth W.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Some Delicious Memories

I grew up in Budapest. My mother and grandmother were amazing bakers. My grandmother would make her own challah bread every single week. They were beautiful and huge (about the size of a keyboard) braided just so, and the top covered in poppy seeds. It was crunchy on the outside and fluffy and soft on the inside. Every Friday she’d also make some kind of coffee cake or other yeast bread. Her brother owned a fancy pastry shop. She was such an accomplished person at making fruit preserves (they would last for years and never spoil) that he used them in his baking and sold them in jars in his store. They were of exceptional quality.

Every Saturday my grandmother would make a whole variety of strudels that were just incredible—sweet strudels (tart cherries, walnuts with sugar, poppyseed0 and cabbage strudels. It amazingly took her no time whatsoever. We had a huge dining room table; here she would stretch the dough, blow underneath it, stretch the dough some more, and blow under it some more. There were never any holes. They were exquisite but she thought there was nothing to it. She taught me to cook lots of things but she said I was in no way ready to graduate to strudel making so I never learned that. She preserved everything but was so happy when they started to sell canned tomato sauce in the market because it was such a mess and so much work to make. She would preserve meat by covering it completely in fat and it would last for a very long time. Our huge pantry was stocked with big jars of what she had preserved— plums, peaches, strawberries, cherries, gooseberries. She was a fabulous cook but the big deal was the goose that she would cook on Saturday! We loved to eat and were rather chubby back then.

During the war my family had an acquaintance who owned a very fine pastry shop. My mother and grandma decided that they would apprentice themselves to this gentleman. My mother was an artist and did amazing, beautiful pastries that were to perfection. Her cinnamon rolls were about 1½ in wide and tall, with the thinnest layers of pastry and a generous portion of cinnamon or cocoa sprinkled in between. She made cakes not to be believed. Her hands were a gem. After the war, when we came back from the Jewish ghetto, sick and undernourished, this pastry shop owner, who was a Gentile, was the first one who showed up at our doorstep, laden with goodies. He brought a jar of fresh strawberry jam and I portioned it out one spoonful a day – I still cherish strawberry jam to this day.

We lived in an apartment building overlooking the Danube. There were incredible specialty shops on our street. One was a butcher shop with curving marble counter tops with a huge fish tank below it for show; and there were lots of specialty cheese shops. My folks were great friends with the fish monger and his wife who was a huge buxom lady with arms that glistened with rendered fat because they also sold goose there. Everyone always talked about the size of the goose liver. It was like a treasure hunt because you never knew exactly what you would get. We also had “spring chickens” about the size of a Cornish game hen. Inside of them were tiny eggs (smaller than a Lindt chocolate truffle) which only had yolks. We put them in the chicken soup—the egg was a special delicacy. Until all hell broke loose life was very good.

Veronica R.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

I Wish I Had A Recipe For Those Dumplings...

My grandmother owned and ran a tavern and small restaurant in the city of West Allis, Wisconsin, an industrial city adjacent to Milwaukee, when there were taverns on every block and at a time when kids could run over and get a pitcher of beer for their parents at home. The tavern was situated across the street from a factory where they forged steel and further down the street from Allis Chalmers Tractor Company. The neighborhood was primarily central European families, who worked at these factories and they lived in triple-decker homes. Adjacent to her tavern was an outdoor farmer’s market which was a permanent structure with long rows of tables and awnings over each row.

My grandmother was originally from a small town in southern Wisconsin where Swiss and German immigrants settled and farmed and produced limburger cheese in small cheese houses beside the barns. The families of this town brought with them recipes from their European homelands and my grandmother incorporated them into her menu at her tavern.

On farmer’s market days she cooked, in addition to her regular lunch menu, one or two special dishes for the farmers. I remember her serving stuffed pork chops, wiener- schnitzel, and sauerbraten on those heavy divided china plates that could bend your wrists back with their weight. There were often customers lined out the door waiting to get in.

Her most popular item and her specialty was a chicken soup with farina dumplings which I never got the recipe for and which I have been tying to reproduce for many years. I remember vats of chicken stock sitting on the large window sills cooling so that the fat could be removed at the top. Then she would put in the vegetables and chicken, and simmer the soup before adding her killer dumplings. I even made them with her a few times, but she never had written recipes and I was too young to pay attention to proportions. The dumplings were light and penetrated with the chicken stock. The smell of the chicken dumpling soup would waft out of her kitchen and permeate the entire neighborhood, which is maybe why she always sold out of that soup each day. It may be that I will never be able to reproduce her soup. The ingredients were less mass- produced at that time and stewing chickens were raised differently and then there is the fact that I just can’t get the dumplings right.

Mary B.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Friday Night at Bubbe’s

“See you Friday night at Bubbe’s,” my aunts would call as they rushed off to work or make dinner. My grandmother, Ida Kravitz was called ‘Bubbe’ by her ten children, twenty-four grandchildren and ever increasing number of great grandchildren.

Every Friday night, Bubbe’s dining room table became her canvas, stretching centuries, laden with chicken soup, matzah balls, boiled chicken, kugel, challah, bowties and kasha and of course, her own kamish bread. Her family, as well as any other neighbors or friends who picked up on the aroma, crowded into her four room row house apartment at 6727 Horrocks Street, to eat in shifts.

Those coming directly from work, along with the children would eat first. The second shift poked around the living room looking at the same old photographs, munching on salted peanuts and chocolate kisses, smoking or just squeezing together on the sofa, gulping down the rich, luscious air of Bubbe’s house.

Aunt Jean, just home from work, still wearing her Lenny’s Hot Dogs uniform, would dutifully sit in the same chair each week while Bubbe brought her soup. Aunt Jean served fast food at a hot dog stand at Fifth and Passyunk Avenue all day to people she called “baby” and “doll.” She willingly surrendered her public persona as Bubbe’s steamy soup seeped through her. She ended her meal with a Raleigh cigarette. She let me count the coupons. She chewed Dentyne and carried four packs in her handbag, always one there for me.

Aunt Min and Aunt Bess hovered around the table, broad jumping to the refrigerator, should any man or child ask for ketchup or butter. Bubbe couldn’t understand why anyone would need ketchup so you couldn’t find any on the table, and butter was “tref” with chicken. It wasn’t allowed. But, no one knew from want at Bubbe’s house so it was with impish delight that Aunt Minnie and Aunt Bessie saw that the contraband got into the right hands.

No one waited very long for anything, in fact the second shift usually ended up at the table with the slow eaters of the first shift, who were unwilling and often unable to give up their thrones. The table talk usually centered around the hot dog business. Almost everyone worked for Uncle Lenny except for my parents who had their own luncheonette, Abie’s Hot Dogs at Fourth and Monroe. Aunt Bess worked at Lenny’s on Castor Avenue. Aunt Minnie did not, although her husband Uncle Joe went to work for Lenny after he lost his job in the late nineteen sixties.

Aunt Min and Aunt Bess resembled each other sharing the same face and sense of humor. Aunt Bess was a brunette. Aunt Minnie dyed her hair fire engine red. People would see Aunt Bess working the counter at Lenny’s on Castor and remark, “Oh, you’ve darkened your hair!”

“No, you’re thinking of my sister,” she would reply. The word “sister” dripped from her mouth sweet as pie-a-la-mode, famishing any sister-less soul, like me.

Cousin Lily was one of the oldest grandchildren. She was only a few years younger than my mother. When Lily’s mother died young, Bubbe raised Lily along with my mother and her younger brother Lenny, the three youngest children. Lily didn’t work for Lenny and was proud of it. She wore bright, tight clothes over her ample frame and every inch of her said “notice me!!” I imagine this was to be expected from the eleventh child. She complained that the cigarette smoke on Friday night at Bubbe’s irritated her asthma, and that
there was too much food. She didn’t stay long but like all of Bubbe’s children, she always finished her plate.

My Auntie Mame, Cousin Lily drove a convertible and took me away on weekends to Long Beach Island, New Hope, movies and theater. Early on she whet my appetite for the freedom and excitement of the road, as well as the comfortable embrace of returning home.

This was the table where I spent every Friday night for the first twelve years of my life. I was one of the kids who Bubbe Ida fed first. I remember the quiver of Bubbe’s wrinkled, vein striped hands as she carried my bowl of hot soup between them. She didn’t flinch when that steamy broth leaked down her sagging arms towards her elbows.

Bubbe crossed an ocean to bring me that soup. Feeding me was her goal. Mortal affliction would not come between us. The soup contained all of her hopes for a better life for herself, her family, her world. It made the struggles of her past as well as the creeping injustices of old age recede into the background, at least on Friday night.

Bubbe infused my cousins, my brothers and me with her fire, and fortified us with her antidote to physical or spiritual suffering. She left twenty-four grandchildren who now have grandchildren. When we come together, it is always with warm bellies, full hearts and eyes shining from the light that was cast on Friday nights at Bubbe’s.

Tracy W.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

There's More to Cooking Than Food

I’ve been working on a really interesting food-memory archiving project with a group of people who are students of Sufi Master Bawa Muhaiyaddeen. Bawa passed away in 1986 at a very old age, but when he was alive he would personally cook for and serve sometimes hundreds of people at a time—always with patience and compassion, nurturing not only the receivers’ bodies, but their spirits as well. A number of people used to be Bawa’s cooking assistants and through this serious and often strenuous duty, they learned important lessons like never to cook when you’re angry because your emotions go into the food you’re cooking, and when you cook, your intention and awareness are part of the ingredients. Something to ponder...


Friday, March 19, 2010


As I get a little older my memory isn’t quite what it used to be. Today Steve put bananas in my corn flakes, and I knew it and wanted it, but as I was eating I got startled...I thought there was a SCALLOP in my cereal. We both looked in the bowl, and then I remembered, oh yeah, you put bananas in. Oy vay

Lee R.

Friday, March 12, 2010

When Campus Food Just Won’t Cut It

It's easy to miss Pete's New Haven Style Apizza (pronounced, as the menu will tell you, "ah-beets"). Located on the ground floor of a shiny new apartment complex in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, DC, the twenty-foot high glass doors look like an entrance for a law firm or high-end cosmetics shop, not a pizza joint. A small clapboard sign advertises Pete's lunch specials, and directs travelers to take a left turn out of the Metrorail station just twenty-five feet away to enjoy two slices of cheese pizza for the bargain price of $5.99.

Just five years ago, Columbia Heights would have been an unlikely location for an upscale pizza restaurant. The neighborhood, at the intersection of 14th and Irving streets in north DC, had long been the location of low-income apartments and high crime. However, an urban development company decided that Columbia Heights would be a prime location for a gigantic big-box retail complex called DC USA--thus starting the gentrification of the area. As soon as the Target, Best Buy, and other stores opened within DC USA, commuters from across the city flocked to the new complex, overwhelming the neighborhood's previously underutilized Metrorail station and causing traffic jams up and down 14th Street. Before long, new apartment complexes were being built, and Columbia Heights (or at least three blocks of it) was suddenly Northwest DC's hottest community.

Columbia Heights' gentrification is somewhat unsettling. Take the H4 bus towards Brookland station and you'll see what I mean: you'll pass through the upper-middle class area of Cleveland Park, and though the Salvadorean community of Mount Pleasant, with its bodegas and carry-out restaurants. Suddenly, for several blocks, the brick and concrete changes to the glass and metal of new urban construction. The homeless seem equally confused by this shift, begging for quarters at the top of the Metrorail station, shoppers rushing this way and that. And in the midst of this confusion, so sits Pete's New Haven Style Apizza like a Chuck E. Cheese in the middle of the Sahara.

Urban planning aside, Pete's serves up some of the best pizza and sandwiches in DC. A tiny restaurant with maybe thirty-five seats, Pete's sells pizzas by the slice for the reasonable sum of $3 or so, and full pizzas that can reach upwards of $30. It's a popular spot for young professionals on weekends, and it's often tough to find a seat. Pete's is a neighborhood pizza joint that would feel more at home downtown than it would in Columbia Heights, but I'm happy to take advantage of it's location for a "Little Pete" panino sandwich.

I first ordered the "Little Pete" on a Thursday afternoon in October. Exhausted by class, I wanted something tasty--not the soggy pizza or flavorless dishes available at my campus dining hall. I had been to Pete's once before, and had ordered some serviceable pizza that didn't quite fill me up for the $3 per slice I had paid. Almost all reviews of Pete's, however, had mentioned the panini, so upon exiting the bus at 14th and Irving, I decided to order the "Little Pete" for the reasonable sum of $8.80, tax included.

The "Little Pete" marries fried Italian eggplant, a sundried tomato pesto, broccoli rabe, and Rossellino cheese pressed into two gloriously thick slices of garlicky bread. It's served with a side salad of lettuce and dressing--which, when warmed by the sandwich, creates an interesting diversion from the main event. With my first bite, I was hooked...this was the sandwich I had been looking for! It was cheap, filling, delicious, and a welcome break from delivery or on-campus food. "I just ate my best food item of the semester," I later posted on Facebook.

Whenever I crave a feel-good meal, I still head over to Pete's Apizza in the wonderfully confusing neighborhood of Columbia Heights. It's not perfect: often too crowded and priced a little above average. Yet the "Little Pete" is worth it, and it may stick with me as one of my best food memories from my college years.

Mike W.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Christmas Cookies

I guess most of my food memories revolve around holidays and family gatherings…Christmas dinners, Thanksgiving feasts, Fourth of July parties at the lake with my cousins in South Dakota, the first Easter ham dinner I made for all my friends at college. But I’d have to say my fondest memories of my youth are of our whole family, sitting around our kitchen table a week or so before Christmas, decorating cut out cookies. With colored icing, sugars and non-perils we used small paintbrushes and toothpicks to “paint” and decorate the cookies. It would take hours. My German father excelled at very detailed decorations and every year the three of us kids would try to match his style. He too had fond memories of decorating Christmas cookies as a child growing up on a small farm in North Dakota, where having cookies was sometimes their only Christmas presents. The recipe my mother used for these cookies was a butter cookie recipe she was given by a college friend who had received it from her grandmother. They were thin and very fragile, very difficult to role out and cut and bake without burning (the only time I heard my mother curse was when she made these cookies). However they are extremely yummy cookies so part of the fun in decorating was to “accidentally” break a cookie so “it just had to be eaten right away.” The resulting collection of decorated cookies was a work of art in our opinions and I remember crying one year when my mother served the cookies to guests without consulting us. I wanted to save my special cookies for myself! I’ve continued the tradition with our family and now I’m the one who curses every year making dozens of “Grandma’s Butter Crisps” and my girls create amazing works of art. I’ve included my neighbor’s and friends’ children so that it’s become the annual “Vicki’s Cookie Party” holiday event…And every single year, as I sit down and decorate a handful of cookies, I remember the happiness and love I felt as our family decorated together and the pure, innocent joy my father passed on to all of us through this tradition.

Vicki T.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Cake Genealogy

I am very interested in our family genealogy. What makes it fascinating to me is not just the family tree, or the stories that go with the individuals, but the recipes that have been passed down through the generations. These recipes have the ability to conjure up the best memories and visions of my childhood. I have since copied recipes into a file onto my computer, but I keep the originals, handwritten, given to me by my mother, my grandmothers, stained index cards, cookbooks with special notes written in them, scraps of paper, because even those bring strong memories of the people who made them.

In my family there are a lot of good cooks and a lot of recipes. The food stories could fill volumes. But this is about just one of our all time favorites, my grandmother’s sour cream chocolate cake. My grandmother was the first to bake this luscious cake. My mother took this recipe when she was married, and as far back as I can remember, this was the official birthday cake in our family. It has changed over the years; cream soured with vinegar from my grandmother, store bought sour cream from my mother, and when I returned from cooking school, I got more creative with each celebratory cake I made, substituting buttermilk and yogurt for the sour cream, changing types of flours, different sugars. Now, I’ve gone back to my mother’s recipe. My kids began helping me to bake the sour cream chocolate cake when they were 2. It was messy work, but someone had to lick the bowl. Now my son and daughter make my birthday cake, together, fighting over who licks the spatula or bowl, just like I did with my brother and sister. I share chocolate cake stories with them like my favorite dog nibbling on my wedding cake, or carrying cakes across the country on airplanes, making the cake for the family I lived with in France. My kids now are old enough to come to a yearly neighborhood party near my mother’s and they continue the tradition of bringing the chocolate cake that I have been doing every year for 20 years. They know if there isn’t sour cream, vinegar and milk will work just as well. And, the recipe they use now when they bake the cake is spotted with chocolate covered with my notes on all my variations. I could print out a clean sheet, but where are the memories in that?

Judy K.

Monday, March 1, 2010

My Grandmother

I must have been about 6 years old when my maternal grandmother died. The most vivid memory that I have is of visiting her house with my mother and sister very shortly after we learned of her passing. In the kitchen, on a platter, was the last batch of rice knishes that my grandmother had baked. My mother approached the counter as if gold was sitting on top of it. With tears in her eyes she gave each of us a rice knish, and took a third for herself. We ate them very slowly and without saying a word. No words were needed. The message to me was very clear: Homemade food equals love.

Terry S.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Good Gravy

When I got married, my cooking skills didn’t go much beyond boiling hot dogs and scrambling eggs. My attempts from cookbooks were honorable but sadly lacking. To my husband, who is Italian, a meal of macaroni, meatballs and gravy is almost a religious experience and because of that I proclaimed early on in our marriage that I refused to attempt it. I was young and my ego couldn’t handle failing at that one! So, if he wanted macaroni, he would be the one to cook it. And so he did for several years. Thankfully my cooking skills improved greatly and over those years I paid close attention to the process of preparing that sacred meal. Feeling much more confident, I was finally ready to give it a try. The beginnings weren’t great but according to my husband, my gravy and meatballs are now better than his mom’s (sorry mom)!! For me it’s not only a personal triumph but also a huge compliment - my mother-in-law is a great cook! Oh and for those who may not know, once you put the meat into the tomato sauce it is no longer a sauce, it is gravy.

Nancy R.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Some Memories Are Better Off Forgotten

Looking back I realize that not all food memories are pleasant. When I was about twelve, my family drove up to Boston from Connecticut for my cousin’s bar mitzvah. One of my uncles was very generous and decided he would treat us all at a special French restaurant. I don’t think I’d ever had French food before and I remember tasting many different dishes that night. In those days, French cooking was very rich, heavy, and full of cream and alcohol; in fact, I think there was alcohol in almost everything I ate. Needless to say, by the end of that meal I was not feeling at all well. I’ll spare you any more details but let's just say it was many years before I entered a French restaurant again.

PS. My mom just reminded me of the rest of the story. On our way home from Boston we stopped for lunch at a Howard Johnson's restaurant. She remembers three kids looking deliriously happy, holding the giant menus and devouring french fries and burgers


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Monkey Soup

In 1974 my friend and I were crossing from west to east Africa by road; or should I say dirt track? We had thought from the map that the way leading to the river and crossing from Central African Republic into what was then Zaire was a bridge! But the only way across was dugout canoe. That meant the only transport would have to come from the south and return. Nothing came for days. We camped by the river and then near the village chief’s hut. Huts made of mud and foliage that grew in the dense forest all around us.

The morning our cans of sardines, bread and tomatoes ran out, everyone started shouting and running away from the river down the track. We couldn’t figure out what was going on. Fearing that the river might be the problem, we ran with them passed the huts on either side of the dirt track. We noticed people were picking up sticks and stones and other objects. We knew many of the people by now so we didn’t fear them. But what could be happening? After running passed the village huts, and further into the forest, people stood about shouting up into the trees, while other climbed them.

Turned out a troop of monkeys were swinging through the trees and the villagers were intent on catching at least one for dinner. This is now known as bush meat. I didn’t know back then but this is the main reason for the reduction of animals in Africa, not overseas Hemingway-style hunters.

Once we saw what was happening we retreated back toward the river. Near the chief’s hut a fire was started and two men brought a large dead monkey with a spike through it and turned it over the fire to burn off its hair. We went on to sit at our favorite spot by the river.

That evening a large old metal pot with a soup-like mixture was brought to the chief’s hut. Many people arrived with their containers, everything from the husks of plants to clay bowls, but mainly old one-quart oil cans. We all got a ladle of soup in our containers. We sat and crouched to relish our monkey soup. Everyone had at least a couple of small pieces of meat swishing around in the mixture. It didn’t taste too bad, mainly very bland. I mentioned this to my friend. A light went off in his head. He went over to his backpack and took out our saltshaker. We put some in our bowls and it tasted great. Everyone’s eye’s lit up and he went from person to person shaking salt into each container with appreciative, ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs,’ as people mixed in the salt and re-tasted it. What there was of it, I remember the monkey meat tasting a little like goat, which is a bit like dry lamb. The saltshaker was virtually deified that evening as it stood there on a rock near the hut.

The next day a little one-ton 1930s truck chugged into the village for a short stay before heading south. We agreed on a small price to take us as far as they were going. We stood in the back waving to the villagers as we jostled off down the road.

Tony B.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

A Grandmother is Never Far, When We're Tasting Her Food!

My Grandma Es (Esther) was a fabulous cook. We always looked forward to her visits because we knew we were going to eat well! (That wasn’t the only reason we looked forward to her visits!) My grandparents lived in St. Paul, Minnesota and my family lived in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, a five hours drive. I can still picture them bounding into the driveway as they arrived in their Pontiac....we three kids jumping up and down, waving.

I remember one story when she called the butcher and asked him to send her a really fresh turkey. A tall container arrived. Imagine her surprise, when she opened the box and a turkey stuck his head out, looking in every direction!

We weren’t the only ones who looked forward to our Grandparent’s visits. Grandma Es had three children, my mother and her two brothers. All my cousins loved Grandma Es and her culinary treats! Years later, when I was visiting my cousins in California, we started talking about all the dishes Grandma would make.

Although she would make all the same dishes at each of our houses, we realized as we got to talking, that we each had our own personal favorites! I loved her cheese dreams, which have the same filling as blintzes, except they are made with puff pastry dough. They are round in shape and baked to a flakey golden brown. Like blintzes, they are served with sour cream.

My cousin Melissa, loved my Grandma’s blintzes. She couldn’t get enough of them! And her sister Janie thought Grandma’s knadelah were the best—in her homemade chicken soup. Once we realized that we each preferred something different, the obvious became clear! We would get together and make all three dishes in honor and memory of Grandma! (And just a little for our taste buds!)

We decided to meet at Janie’s house, where we rolled up our sleeves and got to work. The first obstacle was looking at Grandma’s recipes in her own handwriting and figuring out what a “handful” of this amounted to and a “little” of that! Nevertheless, we had such a good time—what a once in a life time event!

Hours later, we sat down to a sumptuous meal. Each one of us happy as we tasted a long missed food we remembered from our childhood. We decided Grandma would be proud of us! Everything tasted wonderful and it felt like Grandma Es was with us once again.

Dale Ann A.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A Long Way from Baked Potato and a Salad

I became a vegetarian more than 25 years ago. In a way, it was a gradual transition in that the idea percolated in my head and heart for a few years, but once I made the decision I went “cold turkey” as they say. In those days, eating out in restaurants (or even at other people’s homes) as a vegetarian was an often boring and frustrating endeavor. I often had to make due with a baked potato and a salad—not much diversity or protein there. I guess I was lucky if I got to go to a Chinese restaurant that had tofu but then I had to make sure there was no pork mixed into the dish. Life got exciting when vegetarian restaurants started opening up, and I often made the rounds. The problem was that in many cases they all served the same “hippie” food as the next guy and even more often they soon went out of business.

Fast forward 20 years and there are now many exciting vegetarian dining options available in all different price ranges (just Google “vegetarian restaurants” in the location you’re interested in). This past summer my husband and I were in Philadelphia visiting friends and we all went to an awesome, upscale vegan restaurant called Horizons. Now, I was always jealous of the places I’ve seen featured on the Food Network—I wanted to go to a restaurant where delicious food is plated in beautiful towers with delectable sauces. Horizons was this and more. There were so many interesting selections on the menu that it was hard to choose. Luckily our friends like to order a wide variety of dishes when they dine out so between us I think we were able to taste seven or eight dishes including Jamaican BBQ Seitan with jícama slaw, smoked chile dip, Vietnamese Tacos–crispy lemongrass tempeh, sriracha mayo, daikon, cilantro, carrot, & chile, and Grilled Seitan with yukon mash, grilled spinach, horseradish cream and roasted red pepper tapenade. Now, those of you who are not vegetarian might not appreciate the excitement these upscale dishes bring to our taste buds, but let me tell you that we were talking about that meal for weeks. I really think that any omnivore would be more than satisfied with any of the dishes on that menu. In fact, I invite you to give this place or any other vegetarian restaurant in your area a try—you’ll probably be very pleasantly surprised. You can visit Horizons website at


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A Taste of the Past

The holiday of Passover was an event when amazing culinary feats occurred in my childhood home. This holiday’s preparations required considerable effort including the making of gefilte fish, horseradish, chicken soup, matzoh balls and many other culinary delights. Everything was made from scratch including the gefilte fish, (fish patties) served with hand-grated horseradish.

There were no food processors to do the work, just old fashioned elbow grease! To make the fish, my Father bought 30-40 pounds of whole carp fish. The fish was filleted and ground, spices and other ingredients were added. Then the mixture was formed into balls, and cooked in a large pot with carrots, and broth. My Mother had her special tasters. One of her cousins would come to our home to sample the delicacy and give his opinion. The creation of this delicacy really became an event that took several people to complete.

Eventually, each fish patty would be refrigerated and cooled and later served with a very spicy hand-grated horseradish condiment.

My Father bought the horseradish root and sat outdoors with his grater and grated the pungent root. The aroma made one cry it was so strong. This is why it was done out-of-doors. Grating this root was a tough job…a man’s job. When the grating was complete, I recall that he added beet juice to it which gave it the red color. My father also made sour pickles and sour green tomatoes from scratch in big wooden barrels. I remember giant springs of dill, bay leaves and numerous other spices.

I have many other memories of making Jewish culinary delights like blintzes, kreplach, and preserved fruits. These activities were often done helping my Mother, her aunts and cousins. How wonderful it would be to have these wonderful recipes and experiences documented and preserved for future generations! Those days are gone and people do not make these foods any longer. It really is a part of history that has been lost.

My Mother told me of the days when she used to make braided challah bread with her grandmother every Shabbat. They would paint the bread with egg white to give it a nice shine. The aroma of the baking bread would permeate the house with a very pleasing feeling. It brought the entire family together weekly in celebration of the Shabbat.

Debbie W.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Island Home Comfort

Food and comfort for me go hand in hand. It can be a slippery slope, but comforting and 'flavorful memories' are always good and calorie free. I was eleven when my family and I immigrated to the United States from the island of Jamaica. It was a particularly turbulent and politically violent period in the nation's history and, though we could carry only so much from our life there in our hands, our hearts were full of rich and sustaining memories. The best of these generally have very distinct and delicious scents, tastes and flavors.

Our house in Kingston was surrounded by tropical fruit trees and with overhanging fruit from neighboring homes. A walk in the garden brought scents of lovely ripening and ready to be eaten fruit from varieties of mango trees, coconut trees, an almond tree, a sour sop tree, a star apple tree, a breadfruit tree, an ackee tree and others. Inside our home, gatherings would often center around the kitchen and food. Like many Caribbean families, our home was blessed with extended family. My mother's mom and aunt (Auntie) lived with us, and Auntie was, in my mind and heart, a master chef. Throughout the day our noses would tickle with tasty scents from foods being lovingly prepared in her kitchen, and I was often her little helper.

Mornings might bring simple favorites of eggs and toast with butter and guava jam, or she might let us help make pancakes on the stove's large griddle, but my favorite breakfast is traditionally Jamaican: ackee and salt fish. It is cooked with ripe tomatoes, scallions, onions and spices, and served with dumplings, boiled green banana, root vegetables, avocado, baked or fried breadfruit and Jamaican Hardo bread - yum! During the day my mother ran a school (K-6) in a large garage attached to our house, and so until High School I was able to run from the classroom to my Auntie's kitchen for my lunches. She’d often prepare a savory soup and sandwich with some sliced mango or orange for dessert. I did sometimes envy the kids with the cute lunch boxes that they’d bring from home, until my mother got me one of my own that I then rarely used. Dinner in Jamaica was early and Auntie would pull from her repertoire of Jamaican delicacies -assorted bean stews with white rice, rice and peas (with red beans or pigeon/gungo peas), Jamaican curry, Escovitch fish, and more - and the dishes were always accompanied by fried or baked plantain and healthy vegetables. The coconut for the dishes would come fresh from the tree and I would on occasion pick peas from garden vines for her rice dishes. Supper was the last official meal of the day and would often be a hearty porridge with nutmeg, or an especially fragrant rice, chicken and ginger soup (though my little brother's favorite seemed to be white rice and ketchup - yuck!). Supper was fun because we were allowed to have it in the living room in front of the television that carried Jamaica's single television station (JBC) in those days.

My mother didn't do the day to day cooking when we lived in Jamaica, but would treat us to special requests like her fantastic fried rice. She is a fabulous cook in her own right, and ran a restaurant before she opened her school. But my mother always regretted not having learned more from her father - who from all reports cooked scrumptious dishes from his homeland of China. He died when she was in High School, but it really would have been quite something to have a record of his creations.

Today my family members and I live in different states across the country, so when we can get together there is a feast at my mother's beautifully prepared table. She whips up multiple courses with remarkable speed and seeming ease, and our gatherings always include at least one traditional ackee breakfast with all the trimmings and extra Johnnycakes - always a favorite - (and were in fact my grandmother's specialty). My younger brother (who used to like rice and ketchup suppers) ended up working for some time as an Assistant Editor at Martha Stewart's 'Everyday FOOD' magazine and my mother's Johnnycake recipe made it into one of the editions (see: ). Thankfully, my mother adapts many of her Jamaican and other dishes to suit my largely vegetarian (sometimes pescatarian) lifestyle. I try to watch as she cooks but it can be difficult to document without a camera's eye - it all happens so quickly, with measures in her head and the dishes seasoned to taste. In all of these remembrances, I recognize that there is a wonderful cooking tradition in my family that I have yet to fully embrace (and memorialize), but I find myself more and more inspired to try.

Cheryl C

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Sauerkraut Strudel

This is a story about sauerkraut strudel which was a standard in my husband John’s family. They made it for all the holidays, along with potato strudel and kasha strudel. When John’s sister Violet got married, she married a man who was immediately conscripted into the army. She was settled in Cleveland, Ohio. It was holiday time and she phoned her mother in upstate New York for the sauerkraut strudel recipe. Violet went to work on it and she worked on it but she never could get it to come out right. Once the dough even ended up on the ceiling! One year her mother came to visit and Violet said that she wanted to make the strudel. Her mother put her hand into the flour to start the dough and told her no wonder it never works, “this flour is too damp”. Her mother was such an experienced cook that she could tell just by the feel of the flour that it would never work for this recipe.

John then learned to make the sauerkraut strudel. He would roll the strudel dough out six feet in diameter–the size of a table. It became our family tradition that he would make sauerkraut strudel for the holidays.

Svea S.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

I Didn't Know You Could Do That!

Actually, my earliest memory of cooking is when my kindergarten teacher, Miss Umholtz, made some applesauce, cooking it in a little metal watercolor dish in a clay kiln in the classroom. I remember being dumbfounded that anyone could do that. Up to that point I had differentiated between bought food and made food and never realized that the categories overlapped.

Dick W.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Treats and Traditions, Part 2

Another memorable treat from my childhood was Sunday lunch at a kosher deli in Nashville, TN. When I was five, Dad’s work as an engineer for DuPont took us to Columbia, TN, a small town south of Nashville. After a couple of years, I told Mom and Dad of my friends’ efforts to get me to attend their Baptist church on Sunday. Because of this, my parents, who were basically non-religious, decided to take me to the Unitarian church in Nashville to attend Sunday school. The Unitarians they had met seemed as open and liberal as they were, and this would give me a religious education. So every Sunday morning we drove the 50 miles to the church in Nashville, and every Sunday afternoon we drove the 50 miles back to Columbia. But for lunch, we always stopped at Mr. Ken’s delicatessen for a hot pastrami sandwich with a dill pickle. Looking forward to that delicious lunch always made sitting through the Unitarian Sunday school at least bearable.

My Dad did some of the cooking for our family but mostly for weekend breakfasts. He established a tradition in our family of always cooking pancakes or waffles on Saturday morning and matzo brie on Sunday mornings. For those who are not familiar with this staple of Jewish cuisine, matzo brie is made with matzo softened with boiling water and then fried with scrambled eggs and lots of salt and pepper. He would even make this for Sunday breakfast when we went camping using his pocket handkerchief to strain the matzo. (The tradition of pancakes or waffles and matzo brie is one that tradition I continued in my family for a while until the matzo brie began to taste like soggy cardboard, at which point we moved on to other breakfast traditions.)

One other tradition we had in my family was an open-face onion sandwich we would share, usually when we were watching television at night. If we had a rye bread in the house (and I mean a real rye bread from a bakery, not the prepackaged kind), Dad would slice a couple of thin slices and slather them with butter. Then, he’d slice some very thin slices of regular yellow onions to put on the buttered rye bread. Finally a sprinkle of salt and, viola, a delicious snack guaranteed to give you heartburn.

There was the occasional culinary tragedy in our family as well, aside from Mom’s experimenting with James Beard and other chef’s cookbooks. One Thanksgiving when I was a teenager, we traveled from our home outside of Philadelphia to Bethesda, Maryland, to have dinner with my Uncle Milton’s family. Mom had been asked to bring some pies for desert, so she brought her famous apple pie, along with a pecan pie and a cherry pie. Most of the family chose the apple pie and some chose the pecan pie, but I was the first to have a big slice of the cherry pie. With my first big bite, I almost choked and had to spit out the mouthful. It was horrible. Others tasted it and agreed. But we couldn’t understand what could have caused it. We found out later that it was because Mom kept the sugar, flour, and salt in the kitchen in similar glass containers on the counter. In her haste to make the pies, she had used a cup of salt instead of a cup of sugar for the cherry pie. I didn’t use salt on my food for quite a while after that.

Despite the occasional mistake, Mom was a wonderful cook, and I am indebted to her for teaching me to cook. When I finally had my own apartment in college, she typed up and sent me the recipes for my favorite of her dishes as well as some other staples. Those recipes served me well for the many years that I lived by myself.

Paul W.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Treats and Traditions, Part 1

My food memories have their origins in my parents’ cultures, as they do for most people. Both of my parents are from Buffalo, NY, where my Mom was raised in a German Catholic family, and my Dad was raised in a Polish Jewish family. Their mixed marriage in the early 1940s caused quite a stir in the two families, who never really associated with each other. So I grew up shuttling between the two cultures, especially at the holidays. And when it came to food, the two cultures had their own special treats and traditions.

My Mom was an excellent cook and did most of the cooking for our family. Some of the meals she served my Dad and me were based on the traditional German cuisine that she learned from her mother such as pork loin with sauerkraut and boiled potatoes. Most meals were based around meat, such as pork, beef, chicken, and lamb. Her lamb chops were also famous in our family. Occasionally, when she was cooking a beef roast, Mom would give us a treat and get a couple of marrow bones from the store and cook those with the roast. We then enjoyed the delicacy of the bone marrow on toast before dinner.

When I was in my teens in the 1960s, Mom began to experiment quite a bit with different types of food that lead to some interesting reactions from both my father and me. She would have us try out Tigers Milk protein drink, some soy-based products, and yogurt before they were widely accepted. I remember her first attempt a cooking a quiche, which I think was a mushroom quiche made from a recipe in a cookbook by James Beard. When she served the quiche for dinner, Dad took a few bites and asked where she had learned to cook this new dish. When Mom said it was from Beard’s cookbook, Dad silently got up from the table, went to the kitchen and picked up the cookbook from the counter, then went to the garbage can and forcefully threw the book in to the garbage. Then, without a word, he returned to the table and returned to picking at his meal. (We didn’t discuss things much in my family as I was growing up.)

My Mom also picked up some of the recipes from Dad’s (Jewish) side of the family from my Aunts Tess and Sylvia, who had the reputation as the best cooks in the family. Mom made a delicious beef brisket that she learned from Dad’s sister Tess. However, when she made chicken (or turkey at Thanksgiving) for dinner, she would always make some other meat dish for Dad since he did not eat poultry. He tells the story that when he was young, he was often sent to the butcher to pick up a chicken for his mother Rose to cook. There he had to watch as the live chicken was killed and koshered before taking it back to his mother. He remembers having to always eat the “part that goes over the fence last”, and now as a result he never willingly eats any poultry. I remember once when we visited Grandma Rose in Brooklyn when I was a kid, she served us chicken soup, and because Dad was her “special boy” he got the bowl with the chicken foot in it, claw and all. He was not amused.

Paul W.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Reluctant Sous Chef

I grew up in India and till I was ten years old lived in large “joint” family. My mom, although born and brought up in the same city as my dad, was from a different community and spoke a different language and was used to a very different cuisine from my dad’s family with whom we shared the house. My mother loved her food but was a very strict vegetarian but, whereas all the others in the family were used to a non- vegetarian diet (except for my dad who was not that fond of it). My grandmother was an excellent cook and I still treasure her recipes but my mom had to adjust to eating food cooked their way. My grandmother would supervise the menu but we had a cook to execute her recipes. There was a set menu for everyday of the week. If it was Monday then it had to be sprouted moong curry, and on Tuesday it had to be a lentil dish, Wednesday was vegetable stew etc. My mom would dread Sundays when invariably fish was served for lunch. Those afternoons when the fishy aroma of pomfret or mackerel cooked in coconut milk and spices assailed her nostrils, it was more than my mom could handle. Sometimes she would plan visits to her mother on these non-veg days.

My parents and I along with my brother moved to our own apartment when I was around 11. This is when I first realized that my mom could cook. All the time that we had lived together she had not had an opportunity to use her culinary talents. Her dishes had a very different flavor. She used diverse spices and herbs. For the first time in my life we didn’t have a cook to help make our meals.. From the very first day that we moved to our apartment, my mom got me involved in the kitchen. I was her reluctant sous chef. I remember wishing that I could play outside or be hanging out with my friends rather than chopping vegetables or loading the pressure cooker. But her persistence stands me in good stead today. I can make a perfectly round chapatti and I don’t hear too many complaints from my husband and children when there is a full meal on the table. I have in the years under her tutelage picked up a fair amount of her recipes. In the last few months of her life, as cancer raged through her body it was extremely disturbing to watch her unable to digest the very foods that she had loved to eat. Although my mother is no more, her flavorful memories will reside my heart.

Suneeta T.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Sweet Memories

Hmmm, a story to share about food... I guess it would have to be about how I fell in love with sugar and baking, and grew up to be affectionately called a "sugar spinner". When I was a young girl, I went with my girl scout troop to a local company who had a commercial kitchen. Two women there taught us some of the basic 'how tos' for making cookies. I can still remember how pretty the golden yellow eggs looked cracked into their own bowl and what a pretty soft yellow they became as they were mixed together with the white sugar and the butter.

During junior high school, I took home economics (boy does that date me), and had an assignment to make brownies from scratch. I had made brownies 'out of the box' many times, but never from scratch. What a revelation that was, to know the ingredients to make brownies were in my mother's kitchen all the time! Oh how my sweet tooth craved chocolate mixed in with the sugar, and adding nuts just made it that much better. Nuts count as protein right?

One of my favorite recipes to make in high school was an April Fools Cake that had 12 ozs of bakers chocolate in it. Sadly, this recipe has been lost and I can no longer make this decadent, moist chocolate cake, with the secret ingredient of sauerkraut, which tasted like coconut baked into the cake. Oh that was such a great cake! I also became a big fan of making zucchini bread with walnuts. Who knew vegetables could taste so good.

When I was away from home for college, my mom would make me cookies and mail them to me to get me through finals. When I graduated from college my mom and I carried on this tradition for my cousins. Some years we would make 20 plus different kinds of cookies to send out or give to friends and family at the holidays.

When I moved away from home, my new friends quickly learned that I liked to bake and they started calling me the sugar spinner. It didn't matter if we were gathering for brunch or dinner I was to bring something homemade and sweet.

Many years have passed since I was a young girl scout, but my fascination with sugar and baking has not left me. I look forward to the change of seasons; fresh strawberries to make pie, or fresh blueberries to make a sour cream coffee cake, fall apples for applesauce cake, or pecans to make chocolate pecan bars. And of course the holiday favorites … molasses cakes for Christmas morning, and chocolate toffee, or tea breads to share with friends and family. Yummy!

Leesa W.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

There’s Always Room for Dessert

I just heard this short story from my hair stylist, Kerri. Kerri’s husband Chuck is a waiter at an upscale restaurant. When he asks diners if they would like dessert many times they say that they are full and don’t think they have room for it. He then tells them that his wife says there’s always room for dessert because it goes into a different compartment. They like that rationalization and often decide to enjoy a dessert. She just wishes he would stop saying that his wife gave him these words of wisdom.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Day My Cooking Career was Put on the Back Burner

When I was a senior in high school trying to decide what to study in college the following year, my parents sat me down around our kitchen table. My dad had a pen and large notebook in front of him; my mom had a cup of tea; and I had only my hands, folded on the wooden surface of the round antique table, one foot wrapped around one of the clawfoot legs below, and the other foot tapping the linoleum floor, wondering how long this serious meeting would last.

"So what is it you like to do?" my father, the executive, asked me, approaching the college search in the way he ran meetings at work.

"Well, I like to cook and I like to sew, so how about I study home economics in college?" I began.

My mother turned sideways to glance at my father, who returned the look, and although I knew they enjoyed the five-course meals I had cooked them every year on their anniversary since I'd learned at school how to make such things as Popovers and homemade clam chowder and sugar cookies in cool shapes, I could sense something amiss.

"Try again. How about something a bit more academic?" my mother asked, and she dragged out the word "academic" in such a way that I knew I could not argue for my future career as a chef or seamstress.

"I like to write and draw," I replied, shrugging my shoulders.

"How about studying advertising then?" my dad inquired.

"Sounds good!" I replied and, with that, I pushed back my chair back and fled from the table. And that was that. I applied to Syracuse University's Newhouse School of Communication, got in, and my cooking and sewing career was put on the back burner, so to speak.

Now, nearly 40 years later and a successful health care public relations professional-turned journalist and creative writer (I dumped "advertising" after one semester of writing about toothpaste and desiring a more authentic writing field), I think about my brief brush with a home economics career and smile.

I have sewn a few of my kids' Halloween costumes and outfits for school plays they performed in, but other than that, my sewing machine sits dormant.

I have cooked dinner several nights a week for myself and my family for more than 30 years, and on occasion I've fed a houseful of guests. My specialities are my grandmother's chicken soup, the steaming broth and colorful carrots seeming to scream "healthy;" my lasagne, extra sauce and ricotta cheese, favored by my Italian husband who always has seconds--or thirds; my barbecued chicken in the crockpot--it's simple, yet makes the entire house smell like Redbones Restaurant in Somerville; and my mother's brisket, with ketchup, gingerale, carrots and onions. I've also cooked gourmet for guests--mushroom ravioli I rolled myself, homemade cucumber sorbet as a palate cleanser, scallops in cream sauce, and I once made my mother-in-law a tiramisu, and she wrapped the remaining pieces and brought it back to her nursing home for late night leftovers.

And much of that time, I enjoyed what I prepared and liked other's reactions to my savory delights.

However, my parents were correct: While I can sit at my computer and write stories 24/7--and although I don't draw anymore, I have exhibited and sold my photographs, the "art" part of my 17-year-old hobbies--the truth is that home economics never remained a passion and these days I cook more because I have to than because I love it. It was an early lover, but since then others have courted me and stolen my heart.

That old wooden table from my childhood home has long ago been replaced with a glass and metal upgrade, and my mother--who was an ordinary everyday cook but a master of French food that she prepared once a month for guests (and we kids got the leftovers)--no longer cooks, but, together, we made her brisket last Rosh Hashanah, a memory frozen in my mind, forever.

Time marches on, and I will always remember my one-time goal to major in home economics. It was a fleeting, but intriguing, idea.

Mindy F.

Monday, January 11, 2010

But the Recipe Doesn't Seem to Work

My grandmother, (Polish-Hungarian-Jewish) used chicken fat as shortening in many recipes. She seldom shared recipes for the simple reason that she cooked by the "a little of this, a bit of that, a pinch of some other thing" method. It was a bother for her to figure out how much of what she used.

My aunt, her daughter-in-law, scorned anything chicken-fatty. So when Aunt Millie finally talked Grandmom into giving her a recipe--one that Aunt Millie never knew contained chicken fat--Grandmom had my mother watch her make it and write down the ingredients--including chicken fat. But knowing about Aunt Millie's aversion, they substituted butter or Crisco in the written version for the chicken fat used in cooking it.

Aunt Millie tried many times to make the recipe and would complain that it never came out tasting right.
This is probably happened in the 1940s.
Dick W.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

My Hungarian Roots Taste Delicious

My parents settled in Stamford, Connecticut in 1957 after escaping from Hungary during the revolution and spending their honeymoon in Austria, crossing the Atlantic for eleven days on a navy ship and finally officially being admitted into the U.S. at New Jersey’s Camp Kilmer. When they arrived my mother could speak English pretty well , as she had studied it in Hungary, but my father could not. He quickly learned by attending English classes and watching TV, especially American Bandstand and the Mickey Mouse Club (he had a crush on Annette) and was able to get a good job as an electrical engineer. During the next six years my brother, sister and I were born.

Although they often spoke Hungarian to each other, particularly when they were talking about any of us kids, my parents didn’t push us to learn the language. I’ve realized that almost all of the words I did pick up over the years have to do with food! Each day my mother, who is an excellent cook, would call my father to dinner saying “Gyuri, vacsora” (“George, dinner”). She would serve us delicious meals consisting of things like lecsó (simmered peppers and tomatoes), paprikás csirke (chicken paprikash), töltött paprika (stuffed peppers), tyukhusleves (chicken soup) and on special occasions, rakott krumpli (a casserole of layered potatoes, eggs, sour cream, and lots of butter) or töltött káposzta (stuffed cabbage rolls). Eventually my father took over the making of the körözött (a Hungarian cheese spread that we all love, made with cream cheese, paprika, caraway seeds and other little secrets) and now it’s become one of my sister’s specialities. I’m getting hungry now just thinking about it all.

More than 30 years ago my mother became a vegetarian and ten years later I followed in her footsteps. Lucky for me she’s been able to recreate many of our Hungarian favorites using meat substitutes and they’re equally delicious. Just the other day I asked if she could make me rakott káposzta (a Transylvanian layered sauerkraut dish) and she said she would the next time I come to Connecticut to visit. I can hardly wait!


Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Old Country in My Home

My grandmother cooked fresh food for us every day, recipes learned in her village home in the mountains of Lebanon. Every day she showered us, meal after meal, with her skill and her love – dense and chewy round flat breads, creamy yoghurt with salt and cucumber, pans of ground meat with herbs and pine nuts (eaten both cooked and raw!). We had stuffed grape leaves, tomatoes and green beans with chunks of roasted meat, stuffed eggplant and zucchini, lamb chunks flavored with garlic, oregano and lemon cooked on skewers on burners on top of the gas stove, savory pastry triangles filled with ground meat or lemon-scented spinach and feta.

I can still see my grandmother picking from the clusters of mint and tomatoes that she grew right outside our back door, using her mortar and pestle to grind the spices that filled the air always. I see her surveying the kitchen tabletop filled with pans of baklava, the yield of hours and hours of work, now golden and redolent with the fragrance of crushed nuts, honey, rose and orange flower waters

When I was in college I would get selectively diligent and try to learn how to make some of these dishes that my grandmother brought so faithfully from her home in “the old country,” as a young bride in the early 1900s. But the school breaks were short, and I began to create my own life, away from home…

My grandmother has been gone for a long time now, and I wish I had been able to spend that time with her ~ to record even just a little of the information that was in her head and heart and hands. I so wish I could make that food today. And even if I had never learned how to make even one dish, it would mean the world to me just to feel like my grandmother was back, pouring her love and that humble mastery into the food we ate.

Diane J.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


Welcome to the new Flavorful Memories blog! I've noticed these days that people are staying closer to home, looking for comfort and connection, with some even beginning to explore their roots and family heritage. Many of us find we can immerse ourselves in these things when we remember the food that has been a part of our lives -- recreating the meals and traditions that warmed or nourished us, made us feel good, or were sources of fun or joy in our lives. This blog is a place where I hope we can share all kinds of food memories and food-related stories from friends and family, as well as their friends and family -- from all over the world! I hope you enjoy reading the stories that will appear here, and hope you will consider sending in your own treasured food memories to I look forward to hearing from you!
-Leslie Wittman
Flavorful Memories