Archive for January, 2012

Privateer Rum Cocktails

Tuesday, January 31st, 2012


Consider rum a local food.

In an industrial park in Ipswich, Privateer Rum is rolling out the Hungarian, French and American oak barrels and firing up the shiny distilling equipment to make an artisanal rum like a “fine spirit.”  It’s owners, Andrew Cabot and Nelse Clark, are playing around with toasted and charred oak, and have brought in a professional blender to tease out different themes: masculine rum with notes of sandalwood and cinnamon, and a feminine, buttery rum with a “velvety, silky mouth-feel.”


Cabot and Clark say their product is part art and part science, which makes it a premium bottle that we should reach for the way we might reach for a Cognac.  Rum is made from a grass, not a grain, just the beginning of the technical challenges to creating a fine liquor from it.  Privateer begins with great raw materials – molasses for the English style of making rum, and sugar cane, for the French Agricole style of rum-making, which Cabot claims has less bacterial fermentation, and produces a rum more in the style of a wine.


The distillery has been filling barrels only since last June, but Privateer has already won a Silver Medal at the 2011 Ministry of Rum Tasting Competition in San Francisco.

Even better about this story, Privateer has roots that reach back to the18th century, when private citizens amassed great fortunes in rum and privateering, businesses that went hand in glove.  Andrew Cabot, upon researching his family history, discovered an ancestor six generations back – also an Andrew Cabot – who had been a successful privateer, and who also owned a rum distillery on Water St. in Beverly.  Privateers were private citizens who basically made up the navy our budding country couldn’t afford, freely attacking British merchant ships of behalf of our independence, but happily keeping the booty for themselves.  On a good day they were considered merchant marines, on a bad day they were pirates. When they won, they won big, but they also took all the risks of being on the seas and engaging in battle.

As Cabot says, privateers made millionaires out of fish mongers by filling a great social void.  Rum went along with those fortunes.

And now, two hundred years later, the Cabots are back in the New England rum business, no slavery, no pirates, just a beautifully produced spirit of which perhaps that most genteel of Colonists, Thomas Jefferson, who had so hoped to make fine wine the American beverage, would be proud.

Privateer produces a white rum – usually destined to be a cocktail – but the Privateer version is gorgeously sip-able even without the ginger beer and basil.  I tasted it neat, in a Dark and Stormy, and a few more variations.  The Privateer Amber rum doesn’t taste like rum at all, but like something served in a snifter and savored by a fire.  I sipped all seated at the Privateer Bar, at which I believe that 18th century Andrew Cabot would have been right at home.


Here are some more delicious ideas from our local Privateers:


Privateer Rosemary Ruby Cocktail


1 1/2 ounces Privateer Silver

2 ounces ruby grapefruit juice

1/2 ounce simple syrup

rosemary sprig


Shake first three ingredients in a shaker, and serve over ice with a sprig of rosemary.


PrivateerWinter Daquiri


2 ounces Privateer Amber

1/2 ounce toasted cinnamon simple syrup

1/2 ounce lime juice


Shake all ingredients in a shaker, and serve either up in a martini glass or on ice in a cocktail glass.


Toasted cinnamon simple syrup:

Hold a cinnamon stick gently over the flame on your stove until lightly charred, and tuck it into either your own simple syrup or a purchased bottle.  Allow to infuse.


Whole Fish: Thursday Cod and Friday Salad

Saturday, January 28th, 2012

Thursday afternoons I pick up my Cape Ann Fresh Catch Share, the fisherman’s version of a Community Supported Agriculture.

A Fresh Catch share holder has a choice of being brave or safe:  you can choose to receive a whole fish or you can choose – ahem – fillets.  Or you can waffle, as I do, alternating weeks of whole fish with fillets.  For some reason, every time I sign up for my share, I think fillets are for whusses.  But, on a Thursday evening the only words worse than, “whole fish today, Heather!” are “Mom, what’s for dinner – I’m hungry!”

This last Thursday I forgot, as usual, about whole fish week.  I had planned a menu of cod fillets on a bed of spinach in an orange zest/ginger dressing, steamed in sealed parchment.

“Whole fish today, Heather!” the nice woman at Turners Fisheries declared.

Sh-t.  There’s nothing like the weight of two dead fish in a plastic bag to kill one’s hopes for a quick weeknight meal.  I carried my catch home.


I preheated the oven to 450 degrees, trying to imagine a crispy-skinned, roasted something.

I rinsed the fish off, pat it dry and cut off the fish head and tail, believing that was the quickest route to something I recognized as a Thursday night dinner.


I assembled the orange and ginger dressing that been intended for the parchment thing, poured it over the now head and tail-less two bodies, and rolled them around, making sure inside and out met the flavors.

I knew the finished fish, even if it were as fragrant as I’d hoped, needed color, and a fresh high note.  I had cilantro, also intended for that historic parchment idea, and put together a salsa of the chopped herb, chopped onion, lime juice, cumin seed, sugar and olive oil.


In the old menu, I had planned to finally serve wheat berries from Alprilla Farm which I’d bought at our Thanksgiving Farmer’s Market.  The pound of spinach meant as a bed for that fillet was also still with me.  I cooked each, serving them on the plate with a wide chunk of the whole cod, and the salsa on top.

The fish, flesh roasted beside the bone, all that collagen seeping into it, roasted to a moist, tender meal that nothing steamed in parchment, no matter how much ginger, could ever become.

But the remains became a second feast.  I flaked the meat – lots of it – from the remaining fish, and tossed it with the leftover wheatberries and spinach, pouring the marinade from the roasting pan over all.  Then I tossed in the remaining cilantro salsa.  The wheatberries gave a little New England bite to a lime and ginger infused salad of silken cod.



Skin and bones are a cook’s best friend; they never fail to remind me I’m not crazy to sign up for a whole fish.  In fact I’m crazy not to.  Alternating weeks, whole fish and fillets, extracts two different personalities from the cook:  the one with the recipe in her hand, and the one with a big knife and a quick mind.  I’m practicing being both.



Roasted Cod with Cilantro Salsa and Cod Salad with Wheatberries, Spinach and Lime



2 small whole cod

1 inch knob of ginger, grated

1 orange – juice and grated peel

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

a pinch red pepper flakes


Cilantro Salsa

1 small bunch cilantro, chopped

1/2 small onion, diced

1 teaspoon cumin seed, toasted first if possible

juice of 2 limes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon sugar

salt and pepper to taste


1 pound spinach

1 1/2 cups wheatberries



Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Line a roasting pan with foil.

Rinse fish well, and remove head and tail, simply chopping off each.  Lay fish in the pan.  Stir together dressing, and pour over fish.  Roll and rub so that all is covered.  Roast for 20 minutes, or until the fish flakes when the skin is poked.  Raise oven temperature to broil, and broil the skin for a crispy finish.  We didn’t eat the skin, but it was more attractive, and guaranteed the flesh was cooked.

To serve, simply divide the fish into pieces, depending on the size.  Cut right through the spine, so that each serving is a cross section of the whole fish.  The meat falls away easily from the bone.  Yes, the plate remains are messy – lots of skin and bones – but the flavor in the meat is worth it.

To make the salsa, simply stir all ingredients together and serve on top of the fish.

To make the salad, prepare the wheatberries according to the directions.  Sautee the spinach in 1 tablespoon of butter with salt and pepper added at the end.  Gently mix together flaked fish, wheatberries, spinach, salsa, and the marinade left from the roasting pan.


The Waring School Auction Picnic Dinner!

Thursday, January 26th, 2012


Here’s the menu so far:

Layered Sage, Garlic, and Olive-Oil Packed Chicken Salad

Do Chua – Vietnamese Pickles

Lentil Salad is featured here, but the idea has transformed into a Red-Skinned Potato Salad


Fat Toad’s Maple Chevre

Irene Pickering’s Biscotti


Rosemary Knots with Blue Cheese and Honey

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Although I enjoy baking bread I don’t usually do it.  Alexandra’s Bread in Gloucester – their crusty cobbles and salty, crisp olive branches –  negates any regular messing around with flour and yeast in my kitchen.

But I grew up making everything.  Why buy it if you can make it yourself, was my mother’s creed.  We made the bread, the croutons in the salad, the salad dressing, of course the dinner, the dessert, and we whipped the cream.  Their was a time when we even made our own herbal tisanes for after a meal.

I have to confess, all that is still in me.  Every time I walk into Alexandra’s I secretly feel like I’m getting away with something.  I still can’t buy croutons or bottled salad dressing, and I could probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve bought dessert in my life.  (- usually when I was traveling in France or Italy because those civilized women know baked things are best left to professionals.  Then again, they HAVE professionals.  There was no patisserie on my rural Cape Cod lane.)

And my mother just did that.  She made the jam, the pickles, the quince paste.  She made yogurt and tried making cheese.  She didn’t churn the butter, but on holidays we had those cute, little patterned butter balls.  Did I mention she was also a single mother who worked full-time?  Nope, no inadequacy here.  No type-A challenges.  I’m fine.  Just fine.  My conscience inwardly clicks its heels together when I leave Alexandra’s with a bag of warm cobbles.  Every time, Mom.




BUT, while John and Alexandra make a delicious rosemary foccacia, they don’t make rosemary knots.  My mother and I made these for a killer appetizer once.  Their unique charms reveal themselves pretty fast:  First, they’re shaped like a knot.  Cute.

Second, their flavored with fresh rosemary.  Fragrant.

Third, they’re served hot from the oven with a small hunk of blue cheese and a drizzle of honey.  Surprising.  Delicious.  Smile-inspiring.  Worth making yourself.

Of all the recipes I’ve been picking through in my mother’s files, this is the one I’ve been longing to make.  It may be that I can still smell the bread hot from the oven – nothing so memory-stirring as fresh bread and rosemary.  It may also be the simple fact that across time rosemary has symbolized remembrance.



Rosemary Knots with Blue Cheese and Honey

16 rolls or 8 appetizer servings



1 package active dry yeast

1 1/2 cups warm water

1/2 teaspoon sugar

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for kneading dough

1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional for oiling bowl

2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper


The Topping


1 teaspoon olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary, or sprigs

1 tablespoon coarse salt

Blue Cheese, either Gorgonzola or I used Jasper Hill’s Bayley Hazen Blue

warm honey



To make the bread, whisk together the yeast and water in a large bowl until the yeast is dissolved.  Add the sugar and let stand for 5 minutes.  Stir in 2 cups of the flour and the salt.  Stir in the olive oil, rosemary and pepper.  Gradually stir in the remaining 1 1/2 cups flour.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth.  While kneading the coudh, add as much additional flour as needed ot deep the dough from sticking to your hands and the work surface.

Lightly oil a large clean bowl.  Shape the dough into a smooth ball and place it int the bowl, turning it once to coat the top with oil.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let stand in a warm place unilt the dough has doubled in bulk about 1 hour.  Punch the dough down and reshape into a ball.  Cover and let double again, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Punch the dough down and divide it into 16 equal pieces.  On a barely floured surface, roll each piece into a ball.  Use your fingers to rol each ball into a rope about 6 inches long.  Tie the ropes loosely into knots and place on 2 parchment lined baking sheets.  Cover with a towel and let stand until the rolls double.

To top the rolls, brush them lightly with the olive oil.  Sprinkle with chopped rosemary, or alternately tuck a single sprig of rosemary into the knot.  Sprinkle with salt.  Bake until the rolls are golden brown, about 25 minutes.

As a delicious appetizer, place two rolls on each plate along with blue cheese and a drizzle of warm honey.


Spicy Tuna Salad from My Mother’s Files

Saturday, January 21st, 2012


To be brutally honest, a tattered recipe for sauerbraten in some anonymous person’s handwriting is interesting, but it’s not a love letter.  Old love letters, or hate letters, or even a parent’s letters to a child away at college, are really much more interesting than even the most beautiful cursive script explaining how to make stuffed dates.  I love recipes, but a real letter says more about a person, no matter how culinary anthropologists want to tell me I’m wrong.


Still, my mother’s file of clipped recipes is different, but only for me, because I can feel the emotion rising off of each stained newspaper clipping.  I can look at the recipe for rosemary knots with gorgonzola and honey, and remember the dinner my mother and I planned for my brothers coming home from boarding school.

I can see Christmases gone wrong and the ones we got right in her recipe for Brandade du Morue.  I can see the light in her February kitchen, a pot of small daffodils in the center of the table, when I visited her from graduate school, and she served Greek Cod with Feta and Green Beans.

I can see the more recent recipes she’s clipped – a magazine page featuring a sleek 20-something’s apartment, Chipotle Baked Oysters on a bed of ice at a sideboard – and I can feel my mother planning a dinner party.

This recipe just made me crack up; it’s so my mother, who, if she ever made sauerbraten, made it only once.  No, I had the mother who, even while she was probably feeling herself fade, was planning on a lunch of canned tuna dressed with mayonnaise, sesame oil and sriracha sauce, a recipe clipped from the Boston Globe in the not so distant past, according to the fade on the newsprint.

I don’t know if my mother ever tried it, but it’s genius.


Spicy Tuna Salad


1/4 cup mayonnaise

2 teaspoons dark sesame oil

1 teaspoon sriracha sauce, or more to taste

1 bunch arugula

2 cans sold white albacore tuna in water

olive oil





In a small mixing bowl stir together the mayonnaise, sesame oil, and sriracha.  Taste for seasoning, and play with it if you like.

Stir tuna into dressing.  Again, play with this.  Make more dressing if you really like it, which you probably will.

Dress the arugula in olive oil and lemon juice.  Splay the avocado around it, and top with the tuna.  Grind pepper.

I served mine with the delicious homemade bread Sarah from The Roving Home thoughtfully baked for us.


Gulf of Maine Shrimp Cocktail

Thursday, January 19th, 2012

One problem with the small, sweet and extremely local, Pandalus borealis, or Gulf of Maine Shrimp, is calling them “shrimp,” a name which cannot come unattached to images of large, firm, fleshy arcs of meat seen breaded and broiled, or lolling off the rim of a bowl full of cocktail sauce.  We should call our native version “small, sweet local prawns.”  Or, make them exotic:  “Crevette Nordique.”


A true New England winter fishery, these pink little, bug-eyed insects are cheap ($2.95 a pound recently), and only available from late December through about March.  Yes, they’re tedious, because they’re so much smaller than their Gulf of Mexico cousins – about the size of a child’s finger once shelled – but these are the real local thing, so it’s worth making a few meals from them.  Just don’t expect them to do what the Jumbo versions do.

Think of our version of a prawn as a great local resource for flavor.  Their shells, along with some onion, celery and carrot, make an amazing stock.  Strain it, and throw in some pollock or hake for a delicious local soupe de poisson.


I’ve tossed Pandalus borealis with their shells into a very hot oil and spice-filled pan – chili pepper, oregano, cumin – and set them down Florida-style for everyone to peel and eat.  I haven’t done it yet, but certainly there’s a pasta dish waiting to happen, perhaps one involving parsley, lemon and garlic?

Again, these shrimp are small, but filled with sweet flavor, Gulf of Maine flavor rather than Gulf of Mexico.  Think wild Maine blueberries vs. cultivated Florida ones.

Lanesville resident and excellent cook, John Tulik, gave me this recipe for Pandalus borealis Cocktail.  The recipe is two parts:  First preparing the shrimp, which means peeling them, making that divine stock with their shells, gently cooking the bodies in the stock (John taught me to always cook fish by just bringing it up to 140 degrees; the fish will be perfectly cooked and still tender.), then shocking the crevettes in ice water.


Then, Tulik cools the stock, and returns the little guys to bathe in it, grabbing a bit more flavor before serving.



The second part of the recipe is the cocktail sauce.  John simply provided the ingredients, and left it to me to decide how much of each, but what I came up with was the freshest, spiciest cocktail sauce I’ve ever tasted.  We sponged the last of it up with bits of toast when the crevettes were gone.

Here is the recipe, basically in Tulik’s words, with his helpful notes:


Gulf of Maine Shrimp Cocktail



1 lb. Gulf of Maine shrimp in their shells

white wine (Sauvignon Blanc is best)

1 medium red onion

1 celery stalk

1 carrot peeled

salt (not too much!) and pepper to taste

1-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil:  (Be careful as olive oil becomes rancid after three weeks once opened and three months unopened.  When buying, reach to the back of the shelf.  Trader Joes has a great Spanish olive oil at at high turnover.  Never buy “Light” olive oil!)



Peel shrimps and reserve heads and shells.

Dice celery –  you may include leaves – carrots, and onions.  Put all into a sautee pan with the reserved shrimp heads and shells.  Sautee until the skins turn red and the vegetables slightly caramelize. Stir so as not to burn anything.

Add 2 cups white wine, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for ½  to  ¾ hour.

Strain out solids, and bring stock temperature down to 140 degrees.  Add shrimps in small batches until they reach 139-140 degrees then shock them in ice water. (This will make them have an excellent texture).

Put stock in a container and put in freezer until temperature drops to 40 degrees.

Soak shrimps in this 40 degree stock for an hour prior to service.


Cocktail Sauce



pure horseradish (not fresh, but without preservatives.  Domans is best.  (Heather’s note:  I used Maitland Farm horseradish from Salem, MA.)

lime juice of 1/2 lime and all of the zest

celery leaves finely shredded

worcestershire sauce to taste

hot sauce to taste

tiny bit of sugar


black pepper to taste

garnish with fresh parsley and lime quarters

plate over large lettuce leaves





Monday, January 16th, 2012

As the pond ice and the sea smoke thicken, it’s finally time for foods that answer cold and dark with steaming and rich.  Pouding Chomeur is a Quebecois country dessert – or breakfast, or if you’re really lucky and hungry, dinner – of a basic dough baked in cream and maple syrup.  Translated, it means “poor man’s pudding,” – or, literally, “unemployed-man’s pudding.”  Created, according to wikipedia, by Canadian women during The Great Depression, when maple syrup and cream probably poured freely and inexpensively in Quebec kitchens, this pudding might not be so purse-easy for us, but it is still a culinary revelation, one only someone with French genes could have invented.

The dough – a basic creamed butter and sugar, add flour and baking powder mixture –  is made a full day in advance.  The recipe actually requires the dough sit for 24 hours.

An hour before the pudding is ready to be served, large spoonfuls of dough are dropped into a baking dish.  The cream and maple syrup are heated together, allowed to cool, and then poured over the dough.  The whole is baked, and becomes a luscious celebration of cake with a ready-made maple caramelization.   The composition – light pudding, fluffy cake, cloud-like pancake arrives at the table steaming hot with this suave, sap-cum-treacle.  It may be easy to create, and its origins may be homespun, but this dessert – for its fascinating texture and non-chocolate and vanilla qualities – challenges any mousse or creme caramel for a spot on a fine dining winter menu.

But it also belongs in a kitchen, at a family’s table.  In fact, my version of the recipe arrived via my brother, who prepared this for our families gathered together last week after my mother passed suddenly away.  We were all numb and quiet, but this dessert  – steaming hot from the oven – brightened each of us – from the youngest grandchild to my mother’s eighty-year-old sister.

My brother’s version is lifted from the blog Lottie + Doof, who adapted it from the well known Montreal restaurant, a temple of traditional French Farm Table cuisine, Au Pied du Cochon.






Pouding Chômeur

serves 6-8


6 oz butter, at room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

2 large eggs

1 and three quarters cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

2 cups maple syrup

2 cups heavy cream

Combine the butter and sugar in stand mixer until smooth. Add the eggs and beat at medium speed until completely incorporated. Add the flour and baking powder and stir until the flour is completely incorporated. Refrigerate dough for at least 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 450°F. Bring the maple syrup and heavy cream to a boil in a saucepan. Turn off heat, add a pinch of salt and set aside to cool. Divide the dough among 5 or 6 ramekins or oven-safe bowls and set them on a large rimmed baking sheet.  Or, “dot” heaping 1/2 cup portions of the dough into a glass rectangular baking dish.  Fill each ramekin, or the  baking pan, just over half full with 3/4 cup of the maple cream mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes – either ramekin or baking dish – or until the puddings are golden brown and a tester inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Let cool for 5 minutes, serve warm.



My mother and beauty – in lieu of flowers –

Thursday, January 12th, 2012


It’s easy to resent the world for being beautiful if someone you love isn’t here to see it, and you know how much the full moon rising on a January night, or those five extra minutes of daylight falling through winter’s bare trees, meant to them.

My mother loved the physicality of this place.  She would pack herself up on the bitterest of nights and go out to the adirondack chair in her back yard to look at the stars.  Ok, she’d have a cigarette, too, but it was mostly to look at the stars.  (I like that wicked side of her, particularly now that I know she didn’t have lung cancer.)  Many a child remembers being on her lap wrapped in a blanket finding The Pleiades.

By her bedside the other day, while my mother slipped farther away, her children and grandchildren started to list the words we know because of her:  Love-in-a-Mist, Thalictrum, compost tea.  We know how gooseberries dangle like little pink lanterns, currants are impossible to pick, and husk cherries come in paper wrappers.  My mother taught me about the fragrance of Daphne and the heartiness of New Dawn roses.  I know that daffodils should be planted in clumps, at seemingly random locations, and in such a way that when the winds blow they flutter.  Non-fluttering daffodils were a disappointment to my mother.

Somewhere in France years ago my mother saw peasants collecting bundles of twigs into neat packages, and bundling them with red string.  Carole came home, and we set out into the woods together with a ball of red string.  They were adorable, our kindling bunches.

I cringe at the lights left on in my house, and the non-recyclable baggies in my kids’ lunches, all because of my mother.  My brother joked that he could only marry a woman who recycled as well as she did.   At the same time,  my mother complained that recycling and saving electricity were just more  for women to feel guilty about while the environment is really being destroyed by corporate greed.

She loved New England’s snow and she loved the thaw, particularly that first day in March when the woods tinged pink, the very first hint of life running back into the branches.  In the bleakest of winter days, my mother would say, “how could anyone leave this for Florida?!”

So, it’s hard to be here in the physical world when she can’t see it anymore. I wish I could make that moon go away.


In lieu of flowers, it would be wonderful if anyone interested in honoring my mother sent a donation to Bread and Roses Soup Kitchen in Lawrence.  My mother worked with – and loved –  a population of people in Lawrence who often needed this facility.



A glimpse of my mother

Tuesday, January 10th, 2012


Anyone who knew my mother does not know how the world can go on without her.  She illuminated beauty for all of us in the smallest, most surprising of places: the robin’s eggs she kept on a piece of drift wood shaped like a bird, her Meyer Lemon tree which drooped with fruit (wet feet and acid – that’s what Meyer Lemons like, she chanted), the way she could brown meat to perfection.  The orchard she planted thirty years ago is one of the most beautiful places on earth.  Quince, plums, pears and heirloom apple trees, groaning with fruit almost every year, make a peaceful home for birds, deer, and coyote.  She laughed at how rich she would be if she marketed her quince, which sell in the grocery store for $4 each.


My mother, Carole Catherine Litty, married my father to be Carole Atwood.  Later, she remarried to be Carole Fitch, but none of those names made any difference; She was Carole, a luminescent personality.  She was both shy and one of the warmest, most loving people on earth.  It was easier for her to throw a dinner for thirty people than to be a guest at a small cocktail party, which was another paradox because she always would have been one of the most well-read, informed people in the room.  At the time of her death last week she’d been reading “How to Live, A Life of Montaigne.”

Whatever she was reading always meant a phone call – or many – to me, my brothers, or her sister – to let us know about it.  I promise, I haven’t read A LOT of books which I can discuss in detail only because my mother has told me about them.

She died last Sunday evening.  Two weeks earlier she had cooked our family’s Christmas dinner:  her iconic fig-studded chicken liver pate, rib roast with horseradish sauce, pureed celeriac and potato gratin, the best roasted brussel sprouts I’ve ever eaten, Christmas Trifle, and of course, the Black Fruitcake she had made a month earlier, which I wrote about in an earlier post.  The tables in her renovated barn sparkled with silver and candles.  That perfect garland she always made hung from the beams.


She became very sick the next day, a cancer that couldn’t have been stopped if found earlier, and which took her away completely within two weeks.  The photo of her here was taken exactly two days before she died.

Of the thousands of things I will miss about my mother is the simple phone call to ask, “Mom, what are you making for dinner tonight?”  So many conversations, so many themes on life, started right there.


I took some photos of her home yesterday, just because I couldn’t think of anything else to do.  Here is her house, her orchard, her potting shed (The grandchildren called her Mimi), her trellis of New Dawn roses, the shelves in her yellow dining room.


My mother was not a traditional cook; she was always looking for something new, and lived by Epicurious.  She had stacks of printed recipes in her pantry and on her desk.  I snitched the top of the pile;  I know these were things she was planning on cooking in January.  Here is the Epicurious version of Warm Asian Style Slaw.  I can here her saying after the deluge of English Christmas tastes, “Heathy, all I want is greens and sesame oil…”


Warm Asian-Style Slaw


For dressing

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil

1 1/2 teaspoons minced peeled fresh ginger

1 1/2 teaspoons Asian chile paste

1/4 cup creamy peanut butter

1 teaspoon sugar


For slaw

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 medium carrots, cut into julienne strips

1/2 small head cabbage, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices

1/2 large cucumber, seeded and cut into julienne strips




Make dressing:
Whisk together dressing ingredients.

Make slaw:
Heat vegetable oil in a large heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté carrots, stirring, until almost tender but not brown, about 2 minutes. Add cabbage and sauté, stirring and tossing constantly, until wilted but still crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and add cucumber and dressing, tossing well to coat.




The Anti-Diet Diet, eat lunch!

Thursday, January 5th, 2012

Because ‘tis the season, I’m going to slip into the dangerous territory of diets.

First disclaimer: there is absolutely nothing scientific about this discussion; my feelings about diets are strictly anecdotal.

Second disclaimer:  whatever I say probably won’t work for you, but it’s sometimes interesting to read what other people think about eating.

I believe that as different as our bodies, our genes, our backgrounds are, so our bodies’ responses to diets – or, really, our bodies’ responses to how we process foods – is different.  (I swear, I can get fat on fruit, because I love it so much.  Cake doesn’t tempt me, but a bowl of grapes is lethal.  A wedge of Boston Cream Pie for me is the safer dessert choice, because I just don’t care about it that much.  How strange and personal is that?)

Anyway, my feeling about diets is really the anti-diet.  Stop saying “I can’t have that,” and say, “What am I going to have for lunch today?!”

Make something really delicious, or at least something your really want.  Others may not think it’s so delicious, but it’s your lunch.   And have a couple of things, not just one sandwich.  Add some stuff on the side to whatever you’re having- a really good pickle and chips.  After all, one sandwich, no matter how large, is still one thing.  It’s more fun to have more different tastes, but in smaller sizes.   If you live in Gloucester, get some olive bread from Alexandra’s, and have a piece of it with a smear of butter with whatever you’re having.  You will feel rewarded.

The diet game is all about deprivation and denial.  So learn to outsmart the game.  Learn to play it in reverse.  Make the game be about, “what delicious thing CAN I make for myself today?”   But, do it at regular times if possible, meaning at least lunch and dinner times.

This is definitely NOT on anyone’s diet list, but I drink tea with lots of milk and sugar (lots of sugar), when I’m feeling draggy mid-afternoon.  It might not be part of the food pyramid, but no celery stick or apple slice has ever been able to extract me from the late-afternoon blahs.  Tea with milk and sugar (lots of sugar) works really well.  And if we have to count calories (I don’t, ever) it’s probably better than a candy bar.

I also don’t eat breakfast.  (I beg you to read to the end of this blog, at which point I quote from the woman who was a food blogger before the word existed, M.F.K. Fisher, about eating 3 meals a day.)  I used to eat breakfast, but it began to interfere with lunch, and I adore lunch.  I love being REALLY hungry, and having a moment to think out what I can make.  But it’s the being REALLY hungry part, and then sitting down to something really delicious, that makes the result so happy.

M.F. K. Fisher was not as challenged as we are today to find time for a nice sit-down lunch, even if it’s toast and salad, but her basic premise – in 1942 – was cast off eating rules – Diets are not eating, they’re rules.  Deny nothing but denial.

But add exercise.  Yoga, dancing, walking, hopping a lot, movement matters.  Almost no one chops wood anymore, or threshes wheat, or even walks to the library much.  It’s really important, therefore, to create the time to get exercise.  Our big evolutionary joke is that our brains created enough technology to make it so our bodies could stop doing anything at all.  It’s therefore our brains’ obligation to get out the schedule and add back exercise.

I’ve been posting my lunches this week, because I have all these wonderful leftovers in my refrigerator from the holidays, and think they make even better lunches than they did dinners.

I threw the last of some butternut squash cubes in a pan with the last of the apple cider and one old pear, and cooked it all until mashable.  I added nothing else to it but a little salt.

I rubbed a small piece of cod, cut from the cod I was making for a fish stew dinner, and  rubbed it with zatar, a middle spice blend I had on my counter at the moment.  I tossed it into a pan while I was starting the fish stew, and roasted it on top of the stove in a teensy amount of olive oil.

I set the spicy cod on top of the hot, sweet squash, topped it with the last of the cilantro sauce (Recaintro) in the refrigerator, sprinkled on some chopped mint I’d saved from something else, and added a dollop of the raita that had attended the New Year’s Day Lentils.

Truly, if you’re counting, this was probably four hundred-ish calories, and so good I could have cared less about dinner.

The next day I made a chicken soup with all the leftover vegetables in my refrigerator.  With a good chunk of bread, it was cheering and soulful.

Today’s lunch is – well, let’s call it a Scandinavian Nicoise:  an assembly of green-ish things from my refrigerator and high quality sardines, along with Wasa Crisps, which I love, and a bit of that now famous raita.


Here is MFK Fisher’s 1942 complaint about 3 meals a day, the absurdity and forced-march qualities of eating “balanced meals.”

One of the stupidest things in an earnest but stupid school of culinary thought is that each of the three daily meals should be “balanced.”  (This still goes on in big-magazine advertising, but there seems less and less insistence on it in real life:  baby doctors and even gynecologists admit that most human bodies choose their own satisfactions, dietetically and otherwise.)

In the first place, not all people need or want three meals each day.  Many of them feel better with two, or one and one-half, or five.

Next, and most important perhaps, “balance” is something that depends entirely on the individual.  One man, because of his chemical set-up, may need many proteins.  Another, more nervous perhaps, may find meats and eggs and cheese an active poison, and have to live with what grace he can on salads and cooked squash.

Of course, where countless humans are herded together, as in military camps or schools or prisons, it is necessary to strike what is ironically called the happy medium.  In this case what kills the least number with the most ease is the chosen way.  And, in most cases now, the happy medium, gastronomically, is known as the balanced diet.

Fisher complains that not only is a balanced diet dull, but it is “hell on the pocket-book.”  Instead, she recommends, “Balance the day, not the meal.”  Eat what want wants, not what one has been taught.