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November 2008
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December 2008

The Learning Curve

As someone who cooks for his family (and who is constantly hungry) I'm never sure what to do when one of my children just won't eat. I have memories of being sent to bed without dinner as a kid, although I don't believe that actually happened. Just the threat of it was enough to sear it on my brain.

Last night I was faced with this dreaded situation. Pinta didn't want the frozen meatballs Santa Maria had prepared for her. She was fussy when she went to bed. Miracle! She didn't wake and demand a milkshake at midnight. 

Slow Progress

Black-beans We were out last night with friends, so I didn't have to cook. Still, I was at the stove, briefly, pan frying ten salmon fillets for a late night dinner at their house. My friends have the world's largest cast iron frying pan, and it's a thing of beauty. It's some family relic that came across the Rockies in a covered wagon a century ago, or some such. It's a real pleasure to cook with.

Back at home, I was working on black beans and rice. Well, working isn't the right word. I had set some to soak and they were dutifully softening in the refrigerator as I ate with my friends. I'm experimenting with my black beans, using the dried ones instead of the canned ones (hence the soaking). This time, I've also added a strip of Kombu seaweed to help with the softening process. I'm interested to see how they turn out.

Down for the Count

The stomach flu that took out Pinta last week hit me as well. I spent much of Friday and the weekend recovering. I was very grateful that I had made an emergency batch of chicken soup a few days earlier. It was just about all I ate for a while. So I wasn't cooking much. Which was okay, as no one in my family was really eating.

We served the kids an absurd menu. One evening they had cereal for dinner. I felt well enough at one point to eat a Fresh Direct entree of lobster ravioli. Their servings are smaller than what I would give myself, but I couldn't finish my four ravioli. I found this experience oddly satisfying. Far too often (as in just about everyday) I cannot complete one meal without thinking about the next. I'm rarely full, and have overeaten only about once in my life. When I was sick, though, I had a more modest appetite. Was this how other people often felt? How liberating.

As I was recovering on Sunday, I spent part of the day lounging around reading the paper. I came across Mark Bittman's article about how much kitchen-space a man needs. Dostoyevsky had it right: six feet is plenty.

Trouble in Paradise

Parmigiano_reggiano_piece Pinta got up this morning at her regular hour. Make that hours. She wakes like the way an old car starts. She cries a bit at, say, 5 AM, then 5:17, or so, and again a little longer at 5:45, and so on. Following the advice of Dr. Weissbluth, author of the popular and accomplished piece of fiction "Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child," we always leave her in the crib until 6 AM.

Santa Maria got her and I stayed in bed. That's when the fun began. Pinta vomited her morning bottle, and she hasn't stopped getting sick since. My response was to comfort her, and then get on the phone with the local laundramat for a pick up and head to the stove to make chicken soup.

Pinta is not the only one having a bad day. When I got to work, I saw in the Wall Street Journal that the makers of one of my most beloved cheeses, Parmigiano Reggiano, are going broke. The Italian government is riding to the rescue with a bailout, though, so there's hope. Now if only someone could come to wee little Pinta's rescue.

Kid Stuff

Pancakes A week or so ago, out of the blue, Nina observed that we hadn't had pancakes in a long time. This was true.We've been too tired and too busy to bother. I changed this on Sunday morning when I prepared a batch before everyone got up. Well, almost everyone. Pinta was awake early, as she always is. The only time she ever sleeps past six AM are on the nights when she's been up crying during the early hours of the morning. She doesn't give anyone any rest, including herself.

So after I diapered her, gave her a bottle, and had my tea, I started on the pancakes. I always make them from scratch. It's easy. I use a variation on the recipe in "The Joy Of Cooking," with less sugar than they call for. I also separate and beat the egg whites.

I add fruit to the pancakes, but not just to the batter. Years ago I roomed with the writer Kevin Conley, and he taught me about caramelizing the fruit on one side of the pancake. Conley, who has since moved on to more exciting pursuits (his book about stunt men and women, "The Full Burn," came out earlier this year), showed me how to slice bananas, pears, apples, or other fruit very thinly and layer them on the top of pancake batter as it cooks in the pan. When one side is done, flip it and you'll get a nice brown edge on the fruit as the pancake finishes.

By the way, there's something about pancakes that often gets lost in the time it takes them to get from the stove to the table. Fresh ones have an irresistible, crisp edge. When pancakes are stacked and held before serving, as is the case at a diner, for example, they loose it. It's worth making them in small batches and eating them as quickly as possible (not really a challenge).

On Sunday morning, I prepared the dried ingredients and then waited for the rest of the family to get up. When Nina woke and saw what was happening, she asked to do something that just made me swoon. She came into the kitchen and said, "Can I help make the pancakes?" I gave her the task of mixing the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder. She also helped me measure and pour the milk.

Today's New York Times has an article on the benefits of having kids help in the kitchen. It is supposed to make them less picky eaters. I'll have to get Nina to read it; she may have wanted to help make the pancakes, but she's resistant to eating fruit, almost all fruits. If she sees any on the pancake, she's not interested.

We want her to eat more fruits, so we tried a bit of subterfuge. Santa Maria grated some apple and put it in the batter for Nina. It goes against my beliefs to lie to my kids, and I generally don't sneak ingredients into dishes. I figured it would be okay this time, though. So long as Nina didn't ask about the apple, I wouldn't have to say anything. She loved the pancakes and I had one of her apple-filled ones by accident. They were quite good and I might make some for myself next time.


1.5 cups flour

1T sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1.75 teaspoons baking powder

Combine those ingredients.

3T butter (or less)

1 plus cups milk

1-2 eggs, whites separated

Melt butter, add egg yolks to milk, mix. Add butter.

beat whites

Combine dry ingredients with the milk and butter. Mix gently until mostly combined. Do not over mix.

Fold in egg whites.

It's fine to let the batter sit for while at this point.

Heat maple syrup

Slice bananas, apples, or other fruit.

Heat frying pan. Add butter. Pour batter into pan in small puddles. cook until air bubles appear in batter. Add layer of fruit. Flip and finish.

Back On My Feet

Now that my hand is mostly healed, I've been cooking with a vengeance. Frankly, having the broken hand was a vacation. I'd forgotten what it felt like to stand for hours in the kitchen. Sometimes I feel like I'm running a small restaurant. Yesterday, it felt like it was a big restaurant. I started with pancakes from scratch; moved on to a Turkish lentil bulgar soup that's perfect for the winter; prepped a chicken for this morning's Chicken Provencal; marinated beef for the Tagine I plan to make later in the week; and cooked salmon and pasta puttanesca for dinner. At least I ate well. When I have more time, I'll post details on everything.

The Sweet Way

Brownsugar Oatmeal has long been one my breakfast standards. I use organic rolled oats and they cook in about twenty minutes. Santa Maria was big on seasoning them with cinnamon and nutmeg and walnuts and apples, but I'm happy to have it plain. So was Nina. Pinta, not so much. She used to eat it, but then started rejecting it. So I changed my course. I added salt while cooking (something most, if not all recipes call for, but I'm resistant to; why calibrate their palates to love salt?), but that wasn't sufficient. Nuts are out, because the doctors and their blood tests tell us that Nina is allergic. Santa Maria came to the rescue with a touch of brown sugar. Pinta gobbles it up now. Easy as pie.


2 cups rolled oats
4 cups water
bring to a boil, covered
simmer  until soft and creamy (can also be made with milk); about twenty minutes
season with above spices, if so desired

serve with milk and or butter and cinnamon and walnuts and apples or whatever you like.

Fast Times

For our birthdays, a few months ago, my superstar younger brother and his wife gave Santa Maria and myself two fantastic things: A gift certificate to a local restaurant, Convivium Osteria, and babysitting. We took them up on their offer earlier this week. They came over about seven to hang out with Nina and Pinta and put them to bed. 

I know what I would feel like at that time of day—hungry. So I decided to cook them a meal, before I went out to dinner. In the end, it was not the wisest choice, as I had been looking forward to a night off, and instead found myself at the stove, as usual. But I only recognized that later. That night, all I wanted to do was feed them. They were feeding us, in a way. We don't often go out to eat, and we don't often engage nighttime babysitters. It's just not in our budget. Here they were giving us both.

Anchovy I made them puttanesca sauce, one of the easiest, and perhaps the oldest, recipes in the world. Puttanesca is a storied sauce. Its origins are often traced to Naples and to the prostitutes of that seaside city. Puttanesca derives from the Italian for prostitute, puttana, and for some, its pungent and enticing aroma calls to mind what Courbert captured so gamely in l'Origine du Monde. The story I prefer is that puttanesca sauce came into being because the prostitutes needed something to make between customers, and they didn't want to waste time.

It can be made quickly. And it is delicious too. But perhaps the best thing about it, besides the salty and satisfying taste, is that all of its ingredients are things that don't spoil and can, and should, be kept on hand at all times.

I made the sauce in the time it took the kids to get into their pajamas. We went out and ate a fine meal. Convivium is a very warm and attractive room and the dishes, a cross between Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian fare, are well executed (though my favorite part of the meal was when Santa Maria declared that my bolgonese was better than their wild-boar verision). 

We came home to find my brother and his wife in a pasta-induced haze. They loved the sauce and have been clamoring for the recipe. 

Here it is:

1 can peeled plum tomatoes, crushed

4 or more cloves of garlic, smashed and peeled

3 anchovy fillets

1 chili pepper

1T capers

12 or so black olives, sliced

herbs such as basil or oregano to taste (completely optional; I didn't have any on hand the other night and they weren't missed).

Start a pot of water to boil, for the pasta. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add garlic and anchovies and chili pepper. Saute until garlic is soft, add tomatoes and reduce. 

Cook pasta. 

When the sauce is thick, add capers and olives and any herbs.

Serve over the pasta. Enjoy. 

Afternoon Off

 We spent the Thanksgiving holiday with Santa Maria's parents and her brother, in Pennsylvania. To cut down on the travel time we came back Saturday night, and had a traffic-free trip. On Sunday, we relaxed around the house, and Santa Maria decided to make lunch something special. One of the things we came home with was an organic avocado. So Santa Maria whipped up a batch of guacamole and sprinkled some cheddar cheese on a tray of torilla chips. Paired with homemade chicken soup from the freezer, it made for a festive lunch. And for me, it was labor free. When I have more time, I'll post the recipe for the soup and the guacamole. Both of them are Santa Maria's.