My culinary confession

Virgin Mary

Strawberry pie is not good for my body. When I eat it, each piece stays in my belly like a slowly inflating balloon. My head begins to ache and discipline flies out the window. I know I’ve crossed a food line and will pay for it later, but later is… well… later.

My mouth, however, doesn’t know any of this. My mouth thinks that strawberry pie has been sent for me personally, directly from the Gods, as a reward for salads eaten and vitamins popped. And I’m not talking just any strawberry pie, mind you. I’m talking my strawberry pies, the kind with homemade crust and yards of freshly whipped cream.  

It was Friday morning. Dicksie and Joe were coming to visit in Los Angeles on their way back to Arizona, and I wanted to treat them right, so I got out the last large piece of my special pie and traced a line down the center. There, I thought, those pieces are perfectly even. They will love them. Then, I made the grave mistake of licking a small dollop of whipping cream from the knife, a tragic error for which I most humbly apologize.  

The thinking of my evil twin went like this: 

Oh, so good. One more little taste won’t hurt, but this time I need some berries.

Yes, delicious.

Hum, maybe I’d better divide them again into smaller pieces, so I can slice off an edge on each side for myself. They’ll never know. Okay, that works, but the line is still not equal. I’ll need to even it up by having just a little bit more from each piece. Yep, yep, that looks better.

You know, the French serve extremely small portions and supplement with sprigs of mint or drizzled chocolate sauce.

Actually, the smaller the size, the more gourmet it looks. What a great idea.

I’ll keep eating from both pieces until they are fashionably petite. Yes.

Really, I wonder if Joe even likes strawberry pie. He might hate it. I never asked. And I seem to remember something about Dicksie watching her figure. Maybe pie would not be such a good idea after all. Perhaps its best not to mention I made it. That would be the wise road.

I’ll just wash the pie plate. But, I certainly can’t return two such tiny pieces to the refrigerator. That would be foolish, better just finish them up.  

And so my dear friends, whom I do love, came to visit. And we went out to eat and I kept my gluttonous secret.

A Jumble

The way I mess with food, it’s amazing I’m still alive.

I just downloaded a recipe for a warm winter soup which called for an onion, so I went to the frig. Nope, no onion, how about a leek? Mace was a required spice but sadly missing, so I left it out, using cinnamon and ginger instead. I needed to cube 6 cups of butternut squash and only had one acorn squash, so used that, adding yams to make up the difference. No turnip, so that didn’t go in and I replaced chicken broth with vegetable broth. Coconut milk was added instead of skim milk and a splash of orange-mango juice just because. I always add more spices and herbs than required because most of mine have dulled from a long shelf life. The result? Surprisingly good. I am sure the writer of the recipe would not recognize the finished product as her own, but it made a great dinner.

 When I was 19 and first married, (I know- a mere babe in arms) I asked my husband what his favorite meal was. “Chicken, corn and mashed potatoes,” he replied. I learned to please his palate through no small effort on my part, then served the same meal every night for two months. When he complained I was dumbfounded. “What do you mean? I thought those were your favorites.”  Poor guy. “Not anymore,” he moaned, a little blue in the face. “I may never want to eat this meal again.”

 I grew up above my parent’s restaurant which was one of the finest in the area. Dinner meant a trip through the steam table to pick out prime rib, seafood, fresh veggies, and potatoes. Homemade pies waited in racks next to coolers of ice cream, strawberries and chocolates. I miss those days, those days of being cooked for with no thought to allergies, weight or waistline.

My friend Kim sang and played the harp at a concert last Sunday, accompanied by her husband Bob on mandolin and her son Dylan on guitar. The sound was magical. The director spoke of the evil Oliver Cromwell who banned Christmas in 1649. I was with my daughter, Kristen, who leaned toward me and whispered, “I wish somebody would ban Christmas here. It would save so much time, money and trouble.”

When the concert was over we moved downstairs to the refreshment table, where I eagerly ate every single item that is bad for me. I started with brownies, moved on to truffles, ginger cookies, a strawberry crisp and then started all over again, elbowing innocent children aside. By the time I left I couldn’t breathe and my vision has doubled, but hey, what’s a holiday for? 

This blog post is so out of focus. I’m writing about winter soup and my early marriage, my growing up years and last Sunday’s concert. What a jumble, all headed for the same pot. Is it better than nothing at all?

Refrigerator Girl

morning with coffee

I think there’s a secret in my refrigerator. I don’t know what it is, but almost every night I feel compelled to open the door and stare inside.  I know exactly what is stored in there. That part is no secret. Tonight there are salad greens, cheeses, a pesto sauce, deviled eggs, aloe vera juice, limes, zucchini, cod liver oil, yogurt and cherries. The contents don’t vary a whole lot, but something in me expects a surprise or a fulfillment of mysterious origin. 

This frig has a life of its own. It’s taken to making random staccato forte sounds at the least appropriate times, which escalate in manic fashion, then die completely away. I’ve never heard anything like it. Could it be possessed? Is that why the adjoining microwave has decided to go on and off whenever it feels like it? Is that why I’m under this spell? 

I walk over, open the door, look inside and watch with full attention. I gaze off into middle space.

What is this relationship with my refrigerator? I would be no less captivated by the sway of the wide winged head of a cobra.

I have noticed that I am not the only person to do this ritualized search. My best friend, Susan does it, and my husband did as well, only his path included the cupboards, particularly the shelf that stored the baking chocolate. But I am not drawn to the cupboards; they hold no mystery for me. 

I don’t care about breakfast and feel indifferent at lunch, so dinner finds me ravenous. I eat too late, then boomerang back to the refrigerator – again and again. I pull open the door and study each shelf as if something new might have sprung up inside, as if the lighted interior might have birthed a full-dished banana split complete with whipping cream and sprinkled walnuts, the kind I could eat without gaining weight, feeling bloated or getting a raging headache afterwards. Or maybe I’ll discover a ticket to the Bahamas hiding in the lettuce crisper, or a perfect and eager lover waiting to materialize behind the raspberry lemonade.

Specks of dust motes glow against the interior light as I close the door once again…closing the door…walking away.  Didn’t find it tonight, maybe tomorrow.

Remembering August

My neighbors own Grossen’s Peach Orchard which goes on for miles in all directions. Standing in the midst of their trees makes me feel timeless and whole. Overripe peaches lie smashed against hot summer earth, green ones hide at the center of the tree, and perfect golden orbs bedazzle each branch ready to release into my eager hands.

Mr. Grossen runs up and down the lanes of his farm on a four wheeled tractor running errands and transporting neighbors who’ve come to pick. We bump over peach strewn paths and bounce beneath rows and rows of ripe fruit, as he smiles his good natured smile and points out the best picking grounds.

dogIt’s not unusual for the orchard to open to the public one day, then place a sign by the road saying,  “Closed for Ripening” the next. I respect that sign, but Gib doesn’t think he means it. The Grossens are an older couple who believe in being neighborly and kind. They should throw Gib on his ear when he walks past the sign, but they open their door and their orchard instead. That’s Gib’s Los Angeles pushy side. I would be mortified to do such a thing, but Gib has this golden retriever way about him that folks can’t seem to resist. Next thing I know, we’re scooting around the orchard looking for bounty.

We often pick with my daughter Kristen and granddaughter, Isabella. Juice runs down my arm and drips from my elbow as I wipe peach fuzz on my apron and plunge into the warm center of the fruit. Isabella’s chin is already sticky. There are juice spots on her neck and stains on her summer blouse, as she offers her nine year old opinion about the readiness of this year’s crop. We overfill our baskets in delight and greed. When we weigh our bounty, the bill resembles the national debt. No wonder they let us in.

Canning equipment waits at home. We set up an extra table in the kitchen and become a production line. Water boils on the stove, one pot for sterilizing, another for plunging to release  delicate skins. Isabella and Kristen lift them steaming from the bath, drop them into ice water and begin to peel and cut.

Gib and I pack slices into sterilized jars. His white chef’s apron is already stained. His belly is flush with the table where juices overflow, drip dropping to the floor. I don’t look much better as I fill each jar with honey lemon glaze and lift them into their canning bath. We place rubber circles on the top, wait the allotted time, and listen for the familiar pop that ensures their seal.

The last two seasons at Grossen’s have been bleak. Winter lasted too long, spring was too wet, and summer was reluctant. Their crop was either green or cracked and fell uneaten to the ground.

How can you survive such loss, I asked standing in their field.

It gets harder every year, Mrs. Grossen confides.

When my thirteen year old granddaughter, Britan, came to visit from Los Angeles, I was determined to have peach time with her, but the orchard was damaged. Our yield barely filled one basket, but I was persistent. In the end, we did all the work of canning with only six jars to show for our effort. After a long afternoon, Britan looked at me with her clear blue eyes and said, Exactly what is supposed to be fun about this grandma?

Blind Date


Thirty-seven years ago I bottomed out in my life, and decided to end it. I was living in Ohio, my children were in Philadelphia, and my friend, Joy, whom I lived with, was out for the evening. At that time, I believed that any prescription drug taken in large quantities could kill you, so I went to Joy’s medicine cabinet, swallowed several large vials of pills and lay on my bed, prepared to die.

I had barely closed my eyes when the doorbell rang, persistent and unpleasant. Oh, all right. I’m coming. I’m coming.

I swung the door open to find a dark-haired man in his early 20’s holding a bouquet of flowers.

Hi, I’m Dave, your blind date. Did you forget?

He wore navy pants, a pin-striped shirt and good intentions.

No, Dave, I lied. I didn’t forget. Just give me a minute. He sat in the living room while I changed my clothes. If I’m going to die, I thought, I might as well be having a good time while it’s happening.

I smiled at the bizarre situation unfolding as we drove through the country. Dave lit a joint and passed it in my direction. The humor wore off as I held it to my lips and inhaled. My reality began to shift as it absorbed in my system. Dave had been talking for sometime, but I hadn’t been listening. Suddenly I felt I owed him an explanation.

Dave, there is something I think you should know. I looked in his direction, smiling a thin smile. Just before you came I decided to kill myself and took a whole bunch of pills, so…. ah… actually, I could die any time.

This is a joke, right?

Nope, not a joke, I’m telling the truth.

There was a moment of introspection as he assessed the situation and let the news sink in. The next time he glanced in my direction his face had changed, I could tell he believed me.

Holy Shit! He reached over and positioned the side window so the cold night air flooded my face. Gravel flew and tires squealed as he made a u-turn, going faster than I had ever driven.

What are you trying to do, kill me before the pills kick in?

He didn’t answer; humor was drained from his expression. I’m taking you to the hospital.

No, you’re not.  I’ve spent most of my life in hospitals and I don’t intend to die in one.

You’re not going to die. You’re going to get your stomach pumped.

Dave, I don’t do hospitals, understand?

Twenty minutes later the car shrieked to a halt in front of the ambulance entrance at Columbus General Hospital. He ran around the car and yanked my door open.

I’m not going in there, I insisted. I told you that.

Yes, you are. I’m not going to have a dead girl on my hands. He dragged me from the car, past wheelchairs and magazine racks to the front desk. This woman has to have her stomach pumped, he told the nurse, she’s taken pills. He had a strong grip on my arm, but I pulled away and ran toward the door.

We can’t admit anyone who doesn’t want to be admitted, the nurse told him, sorry. A hot-tempered conversation ensued.

I’d made my way to the sheltering branches of a giant oak and settled in the grass. When Dave emerged, he walked slowly, defeated and tired. He lowered himself on the ground next to me.

Nobody seems to care what happens to people around here, so there’s nothing I can do.

I took his arm to comfort him. That’s okay; it’s not a big deal.

Oh, a human life is not a big deal to you?

My life isn’t. I’ve hated being alive as long as I can remember.

We lay back on the well-manicured lawn and looked at the sky through twilight branches.

Dave, doesn’t it seem that I’m taking a really long time to die? If I think back to the time I took the pills, and all the things we’ve done between now and then, it just seems like I should be dead already. I don’t get it. I don’t even feel sick, maybe something’s gone wrong.

I don’t get it either, he said, but Denny’s restaurant is over there, let’s go get some coffee.

A waitress came over. How you guys doin’ tonight? She was dressed in an orange and white uniform with food stains on her apron. She shifted her weight from one foot to another, as she waited for our order.

I’m fine, Dave answered, but my friend here could die any time, she’s taken a bunch of pills and the hospital won’t admit her.

The waitress chewed on the end of her pencil and looked blankly out the window. Do you know what you want to eat?

What exactly did you take? he asked, as the waitress disengaged and walked through swinging kitchen doors.

I thought back to the empty plastic cylinders but remembered nothing.

I don’t know. I was just sad and went into my room mate’s medicine cabinet and swallowed everything she had. They were all prescription.  He asked for Joy’s phone number and got up to call. When he returned he said, those pills won’t hurt you, there was nothing lethal there.

Stunned and embarrassed, I peered across the table. Then all this was for nothing, right?

He drained the last drops from his cup, and pushed back his chair. It’s beginning to look that way. Come on, I’ll take you home.

Well, look at the bright side, I told him. You’ll probably never have another date like this one.


dream-cat2A client gave me a box of chocolates. I am not supposed to eat chocolate but who can resist? I am not supposed to eat anything that is really wonderful anymore, but I do. In fact my mouth is full of chocolate. I’m on my third piece. I’ll leave the fourth one, the last one, because there is no chewy center. No surprise in the middle. There is only a small rectangular piece of milk chocolate with a logo stamped on it. Oops, too late! I picked it up to examine the design and bite into the corner to prove it was solid. What could I do then, put it down? Nah, just stuff it in next to the rest of them. Now there is an empty box. Soon I will start to itch, and my throat will close a little. People who call will ask if I have a cold because I’ll be sniffling. I get such incredibly low marks for discipline.

I did the cards this morning. They said to be careful of over-indulgence. Don’t try to fill the empty space with food. Ride out your feelings, notice and allow them. I obviously am not listening to guidance today.

I have done everything I know to avoid writing. I have baked a quiche and watered the plants. I have framed a picture and done laundry. The sound of the heater fills the room as I study the tea that spilled in the saucer of my cup.

My thoughts are scattered. Life is strange. We all think we have some control and some say in things, but I wonder. Sometimes life is just life and we’re in it, being stable and happy, or being tossed like a ship at sea. My clients are suffering from the recession, their survival fears are strong. They are being stripped of material security and what savings they had to keep poverty at bay. I worry about them. They are asked to cope differently and be creative in finding solutions. Astrology has thrown us a curve as well. The difficult placement of Venus is great for the arts now, but will highlight weak points in relationship to the point of separation. Ouch.

I talk with my husband about the recession. What would you do if we had lots of money, he asks. What difference would it make? I spin a few fantasies of home and generosity, while he does the same, but as I look around I know that we have everything we need. Our lives are bountiful, the simplicity of our existence full and over-flowing.

I am busy being strong for others now. Sometimes I feel too strong, sometimes I feel too weak. Sometimes I feel like taking long walks to clear my heart. I search for perspective in the distance. I wish life was not so hard. I wish things could flow with more grace and ease, and that there were not so many broken bodies lining the landscape, and filling my dreams. I wonder if there is enough chocolate in the world to deal with all of this. I would be surprised.

France and food

france-view1I must have been such a pain in the butt, but Elise was an exciting cook and I simply did not want to leave the table.

I was in Vincennes visiting relatives, Claude, Elise and their four year old son, Gilles.

Growing up in a restaurant, I was accustomed to good food, but was completely unprepared for the culinary delights of France.

Each morning I would follow Elise through open air markets, as she slipped fresh fruits, vegetables, fish and bread in the small string bag over her arm. I had never seen pastries like the ones displayed in the windows. They were works of colorfully displayed art, ready to be tasted and moaned over.

The baker was covered in flour as he stood in the door of the boulanger, smiling and looking satisfied with his work. Two years of high school French had not prepared me for conversation, but I felt the gist of community as he handed a baguette to Elise fresh from the oven. I was surprised to see them sold without the clear wrapping of breads at home. Customers carried them off on the back of bicycles, and tucked them inside packs with no regard for protection. Great chunks of artisan cheese made with whole unpasteurized milk were handed over the same way.

I had just left boarding school and had a summer before I began studying music in Cambridge. Elise and Claude wanted to show me the sights, which began with the famous Vincennes Medieval Castle which loomed above city streets. That summer we took the metro to Paris and saw the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, the Seine, Jardin de Luxembourg, Notre Dame, and the Arc de Triomphe, but I had little interest, because I had been hopelessly seduced by the cooking of Elise. It was all I could think of.

When Claude asked what I wanted to visit each day, I told him I didn’t care. I just wanted to eat anything Elise would make. She stood over her simple wooden table, chopped, whisked, and tossed, stopping only to wipe her hands and push a lock of black hair from her forehead. I was in a pool of sensual pleasure and hoped to drown.

Smells of fish sautéed in butter and white wine wafted out her window as fresh herbs splashed in and out of the pan making sauces I had never imagined. I was introduced to the exotic unknown flavors of saffron, shallots, fennel and leeks. She braised white onions and caramelized mushrooms, boiled a rich sauce with blood red burgundy, and served steaming bowls of boeuf bourguignon. Crusty loaves of bread ripped by hand soaked the juices.

Dessert came in white ridged dishes of golden-brown crème carmel, or chocolate mousse with gobs of rich cream on top. The house filled with smells I had never known each time she donned an apron. Elise did not seem a gourmet cook, I am not even sure she took pleasure in it. She was simply preparing the daily meals for her husband and child. In the end, her kitchen was the only part of France I wanted to know. She had ensnared my young taste buds and opened a whole new world of pleasure. I’m sure they were relieved when it was time for me to leave for Salzburg. I had been a ravenous freeloader.

I never forgot the sensual delights of my summer in Vincennes. After several weeks of over-indulgence and added weight, I flew to my school in Salzburg, where I traded the poetry and passion of France for a German class, where every word sounded like an execution.

Forest visit

sparrowFasting makes the veil between the worlds thin, so more is revealed. I am on my sixth day now, full of curiosity and readiness to see what is delivered. My morning has been beautiful. I slipped on my old grey sweater, pulled blue jeans under my dress and laced hiking boots. What a combination, very odd and very me. I am grateful to be able to walk along the hillside, pass into the woods and be swallowed deep inside her belly. She always feeds me and is gentle. I feast on a million shades of green and listen to the songs of the birds and the buzzing of a single black and orange bee. How grateful I am for this gift of time and communion. I could be stuck in a cubicle, in front of a computer, in traffic, in a bad marriage or in the bloody wars brought by the last administration. How fortunate indeed.

I walk the road until I come to the log that blocks my path, always a good place to rest or turn back. But today I notice a chainsaw has cut the base of it, preparing to move it elsewhere. Climbing over the top, I notice the entire lower trail has been cleared and widened into the road it was intended to be, even the basin impossibly dense with blackberry bushes has been cleared. Just a matter of time now before the owner claims his forest road and I am left without my sanctuary.

I move back over the log and retrace my steps to a small dirt clearing. With sun at my back, I am able to sit for an hour being quiet and letting the forest feed me. Fasting and age allows a stillness that is not available to the young. Their bodies demand so much of them. Run here, do that, keep going, climb higher. It takes a kind of skill to sink into the womb of the forest.

I look down at my leather boots and blue jeans, and at my dress and silk slip peeking out around my knees. I love the colors, fabrics and textures. I love the deep inner quiet I feel, and for a few rare moments, am truly happy to be the spirit housed in this body.

Food of the gods

brownieI don’t have anything great to write about brownies. They speak for themselves. They are unsurpassed sensual and visual delights, which I need now, because it’s been a really hard month. I’ve been down with some variation of illness for nearly three weeks. I’m at the bottom of my physical reserves and optimism. I can’t eat such a delight yet, but I can look at it. You could make it! You could eat it for me. What do you think? Wanna try?

 Brownies:  350 preheated oven. Butter and flour baking pan

 2 1/2 cups of semisweet chocolate chips

2 sticks of unsalted butter

1 cup sugar

4 large eggs

1/4 teaspoon of salt

3/4 cup all purpose flour 

Stir chocolate & butter in saucepan over medium low heat until melted and smooth. Remove from heat.

Combine sugar, eggs and salt in another saucepan. Whisk over low heat until sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Do not allow to boil.

 Pour this mixture into the chocolate sugar mixture and add vanilla. Add flour, spread in pan and bake. (this is SO good to eat out of the bowl before baking)

Bake 30 -35 minutes. Bake until knife inserted in center comes out with a few moist crumbs attached. Cool completely before eating. (good luck on that part)  The frosting, drizzle and walnuts are up to you.