January 20, 2017

Is this one of those days, those days we will look back on and say, “I remember just what I was doing?”  Is today the day that our lives as we know them changed?  I wore black to work, and many of my colleagues wore a sadness, a weariness, on their faces.  Some wore red, white, and blue, and some seemed unaffected, but who knows if they were just better at hiding their sorrow or joy than I am?

I haven’t blogged much since the early fall.  I had knee surgery, and then I was gobsmacked with the other 51% of the country, and 95% of the world, by the election day results.  Sunday/Monday before election day I had the womit bug – Tuesday I developed a whopping sinus infection.  Wednesday in a fugue state Chuck and I flew to New Orleans to visit Rob and see his various band performances.  Was it my fever, my congestion, or my disbelief that made me feel otherworldly?  Our first day in New Orleans I took myself for a pedicure, and I actually fell asleep during it.  It was heavenly.  Self-care is important!  But so is taking care of the people who take care of us, and I was appreciative and I tipped well.

I had the joy of seeing Rob perform three times, including once when his band Miss Mojo started at 11?  12?  It was waaaay past my bedtime, and I had taken a disco nap in order to see them.  It was wonderful.  They were so good – Miss Jenna has some serious pipes!  If you haven’t already heard them, I urge you to check them out:  https://missmojo.bandcamp.com/releases

After a lovely five days, we came home, and the reality of impending post-Obama America kicked in.

I have been in a state of continuous self-care, which in my case includes turning away from the news. And eating comfort food. And probably drinking more than I should – not really self-care, but appreciated medication. Like Pink Floyd, I became comfortably numb.

January 20, I woke up. A little bit. I realized that someone I adore who I thought was a Trump supporter was, in fact, just as devastated as I was. I learned that people I know to be lifelong Republicans are as upset about a DT presidency as I am. Never, ever make assumptions.

I also learned that someone I know who is a committed, lifelong Republican is an eager supporter of a Trump-Pence presidency. This person also has an openly gay adult child. What level of cognitive dissonance is required to celebrate an administration that makes no secret of their plan to restrict LBGTQ folks their rights?  That advocates aversion therapy, i.e. shock the gay right out of them?

I don’t understand how support of this TP presidency is possible. Do I need to understand? I need to put one foot in front of the other, do what I can to make my world a better place, and support my loved ones in the manner I see fit. That’s all. That’s my job.

Now I pick up trash when I see it in the supermarket parking lot (although not if it’s slimy – I have my limits).  I make an effort to be patient with parents and colleagues who have historically danced on my last nerve. I tell people when they wear or say or do something beautiful. And I refuse to live in despair. I will not anticipate the end of the world or the end of the American dream. I will use my imagination more positively.

40 Clove Chicken, aka post-election comfort food

  • 4 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs
  • 1 pound (give or take) boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 40 peeled cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup olive oil, more or less.
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 8-10 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Unsalted chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • Salt, pepper, paprika to taste

Put flour and seasonings in a plastic zipper bag. Add bone-in chicken, seal bag, and shake well to coat completely. Set chicken aside, and coat boneless thighs in remaining flour. Set aside.

Preheat oven set to 300 degrees. Heat 1/2 cup oil and half the butter in a large Dutch oven with a lid.  When hot (a bit of flour dropped in will sizzle), place in the bone-in thighs, skin side down. Cook over medium-high heat for about 8 minutes, or until golden brown. Turn over, and cook an additional 5 minutes. Set aside.

Add more butter and oil to the pot if necessary, then cook boneless thighs in the same manner, about 4-5 minutes per side.

Remove from heat. Add the garlic and stir. Place thyme sprigs over boneless thighs, then place bone in thighs on top, skin side up. Pour any remaining olive oil in the pan, and add any remaining butter. Pour chicken stock in the pan until it comes about halfway up the bone-in thighs, leaving the skin exposed. Cover the pot, place in the pre-heated oven, and bake for about three hours.

Serve over rice, noodles, potatoes, or just with crusty bread to soak up the amazing gravy.

That little voice must guide you.

My friend Katherine writes an excellent blog called Rural and Progressive.  This photo and attached letter come from her daughter, of and to her children.  Please read, via the link below.

The Friday Photo January 20, 2017 reposted with permission from my daughter McKinsey Cummings photo credit McKinsey Cummings, Macon, GA, Martin Luther King Jr, Day, January 16, 2017 Chase, 8.5 years old, Ella, 10 years old An Open Letter to My Children on MLK Day 4 days prior to the inauguration of He Who Must…

Please read this beautiful letter.  via “The little voice in your heart must guide you”- my daughter’s letter to her children — Rural and Progressive


Foods I dislike

WARNING:  I may dislike a food that you love.  I’m mildly sorry if you are offended by my dislike, but if you are, I hope you’ll get over it.  I don’t care if you like it, as long as you don’t insist that I like it.

purple-suitI didn’t build this Rubenesque body by skipping many meals, and there are, in fact, very few foods that I dislike.  As my cousin-in-law Elisabeth once told me, I’ll even eat gristle.  But there are some foods that I have a hard time putting in my mouth, let alone swallowing.

Velveeta or other American cheese food product.  With one possible exception, which is very rarely on a burger, I would never willingly eat American cheese food product.  The fact that it is called  “food product” is enough to turn my stomach.  I don’t want to eat american-cheesea “food product.”  I want to eat food.  I don’t understand the appeal of this food product.  It tastes like it was created in a laboratory.  It melts well, I suppose, but so does real cheese.  So does plastic, for that matter.  It probably has a shelf-life measured in years, not weeks, and maybe that appeals to some.  Someone once served me chocolate fudge made with Velveeta instead of butter.  Cripes, there out to be a law.  A corollary dislike is the florescent yellow-orange goo that is sold with corn chips at the ballpark, called nacho cheese.  Ugh.  On the other hand, Nacho Cheese Doritos?  Love them.

Cream cheese.  Whatever happened?  I used to love it.  I grew up on cream cheese and bagels, cream-cheese-and-jelly sandwiches, and cream cheese cake.  Now it gives me the jibblies if I eat it.  Is it texture or taste, you ask?  Taste, since it doesn’t matter to me if it’s in a block or whipped in a container.  Either way I can’t stand it.  Cream cheese frosting?  I skip it.  My carrot cake gets vanilla buttercream instead.  One of my standard Christmas cookies is an Oreo truffle, made with cream cheese.  They are wildly popular, and I make dozens of them, and I shudder.  I substitute a mild goat cheese whenever possible in cooking.

As Sandra Boynton says, I’ve never met a carbohydrate I didn’t like.  Almost.  I don’t like banana bread.  This is a bit of a quandary, because I also don’t like ripe bananas, and so as soon as the bananas show any brown spots, I peel them and freeze them.  To make banana bread.  Consequently my freezer has bags and bags of frozen bananas.  I’ll make a huge batch of banana bread a few times a year, and bring it to work, or send it to my children.

Scotch.  Okay, not a food, but a comestible.  Which stimulates a significant gag reflex in me.  I have to give up any thought of being a sophisticated scotch sipper.  No problemo.

Honey mustard anything.  I love honey.  I like mustard.  The two together become a slimy, sweet excrescence.  Pretzels, chicken, ribs, turkey sandwich – it doesn’t matter what it’s served on, or with.  Whatever it is will be better without.  If I discover some honey mustard has snuck into a sandwich I’m eating, I will choke down or spit out the bite (depending on where I am and with whom), and toss the rest.  I’d rather go hungry.

American milk chocolate. Like Hers7-hot-cocoa-brown-hair-chalk-1hey bars.  I specify American milk chocolate because I’m actually fond of European milk chocolate, which is rich and creamy.  American milk chocolate is chalky and overly sweet.  If I am jonesing for chocolate, and the only choice is a Hershey bar, I’ll skip it and go brush my teeth to get the craving out of my mouth.

Asparagus in a can.  I don’t think I could put it in my mouth, or get it past my nose.  Maybe, if I were making a cream of asparagus soup and the market had no fresh asparagus, and I absolutely HAD to have homemade cream of asparagus soup, I MIGHT consider using asparagus in a can. canned-asparagus ***  Nope.  I’ve thought about it, and if that were the case I would use frozen asparagus.  What if the market was out of both fresh and frozen asparagus and I absolutely HAD to have cream of asparagus soup?  Jeebus, I’ve never needed cream of asparagus soup that badly.

Anything artificially sweetened.  There are no words.  Saving a few, or even a few hundred, calories is not worth that poison flavor and effect.  I stay away.  Ok, well, full disclosure:  I do have a diet coke about once a year.  Other than that, I stay away.

White chocolate.  What my dad called Lard Bar.  lard I don’t loathe it on the scale of nacho cheese goo, but I see it as a complete waste of calories.  It is flavorless, except for sweetness.  It can be useful as a contrast in decorating, say, those Oreo truffles mentioned above, but otherwise, why bother?  I’d rather eat real lard.

The Worst Thing I’ve Ever Eaten?  Well, it was 1990 or 1991 during the Chinese Lunar Festival, and the woman I worked with, Isabel, wanted to share a very special, traditional holiday food with me.  I love trying new foods, and will try anything (even insects, if cooked), so I enthusiastically agreed to try the Lunar Festival food.  It was Sweet Lotus Seed soup. lotus-seed-and-longan-sweet-soup-che-hat-sen-long-nhan_7556197 It was cold, achingly sweet, and mucilaginous.  I am inherently a polite human, and so on tasting the soup, I couldn’t spew it back into the cup.  I had to swallow it.  It was like drinking cold sweet snot.  If there’s any reader out there who would like to make me a bowl of this soup to prove that it is not disgusting, I will happily try it again.  Maybe I was pregnant when I tried it.  I couldn’t choke down much then.




Photo credit:  © mucilagenous | Dreamstime.com – <a href=”https://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-image-piece-salted-lard-image37456786#res16757777″>Piece Of Salted Lard Photo</a>








I dream of New Orleans

I am a native New Yorker, and when I am there and the weather is fine, I can’t imagine loving any other city as much.  But the truth is that I just might love New Orleans a little bit more.  I love the food, the art, the music, the architecture, the food, the drinks, the street musicians, the lack of snow, and the food.  I love the mix of slow-moving Southern with fast-paced urban.  As many writers have observed, this is the most European and/or Caribbean of American cities.  A few days in New Orleans always leaves me overstuffed, exhausted, and wanting more.  I’m grateful that Rob Kellner has chosen to study and live in New Orleans, affording me a reason to visit four or five times a year.  I want everyone I know, and especially everyone I love, to love New Orleans too.  I want to bring friends and family here and show them all my favorite corners, buildings, and foods.  In lieu of that, what follows is a list of a few of my recommendations for visitors to New Orleans.  This initial list grew out of some suggestions to my friend Barb, who will be visiting New Orleans for a few days with family, including a teenage daughter, and without a car.  These suggestions stay close to the tourist-centric French Quarter, with a toe-dipping into the CBD, Marigny, Warehouse District, Garden District, and Uptown.


Things to do not necessarily in order of preference but in order of my stream of consciousness:


Hotels.  There are hundreds of hotels to choose from, and dozens of guest houses and inns. Here are listed a very few in or right near the French Quarter, but not on Bourbon Street, and is by no means an exhaustive list.

  • Dauphin Orleans – www.dauphineorleans.com  On a quiet street in the French Quarter, away from the madness but in easy walking distance of everything.
  • Hotel Provincial – www.hotelprovincial.com  On Chartres Street, a few blocks from Jackson Square.  This is where I stayed the first time I visited New Orleans.  A block from the French Market, a few blocks from Frenchman St.  Charming.
  • Hotel St. Marie – www.hotelstmarie.com  On the CBD side of the French Quarter, part of the lovely Valentino hotel group
  • Royal Barracks Guest House – rbgh.com  In a quiet residential neighborhood of the French Quarter.  A bit quirky and funky, with an engaging hostess.
  • La Galerie Hotel – used to be Maison Dupuy.  New management who seem very enthusiastic and committed to a good experience for guests.  In a quiet corner of the FQ.  http://www.lagaleriehotel.com/
  • Homewood Suites on Poydras – a very different experience from the above hotels, it is big and clean and just like any other Homewood Suites except it’s in New Orleans.  Includes breakfast.
  • Hampton Inn on Carondolet – again, a chain hotel, but an interesting one, in a converted old office building which at 12 stories was once the tallest building in the city.  Some of the rooms are enormous.  Breakfast included.  Very convenient to both the French Quarter and the CBD.  One block to the start of the St. Charles streetcar line.


Food.  Dear Lord, where do I begin?  There is so much good food to be had in New Orleans.  There is also plenty of mediocre food, so do your research.  Note:  pretty much any Brennan family restaurant is going to rock.  This tribe has a true appreciation of good living, or what the late diva Adelaide Brennan called “eating, drinking, and carrying on!”

Here is a map of restaurants and bars that I have enjoyed:  Ellen’s NOLA Dining Map

  • Commander’s Palace.  This is the Queen of the Brennan family, the flagship.  Eating at Commander’s is an event, and the food is outstanding.  Feel free to wander into the kitchen to thank them after your meal – it is open by policy.  You might be lucky enough to bump into Chef Tory McPhail, as I did last January.  img_0473Expect to drop quite a bit of money, but it will be worth it.  And you will never forget it.  http://www.commanderspalace.com/
  • Pêche.  My mouth waters just thinking of our last meal there, which was lunch at the bar.  Gorgeous restored warehouse building, light and airy.  Get the brussels sprouts.  You can thank me later.  http://www.pecherestaurant.com/
  • Cochon.  Older sibling to Pêche, from restauranteur Donald Link, but with a focus on pork instead of fish.  You can smell Cochon from several blocks away.  If you want a grab and go meal instead of restaurant dining, check out Cochon Butcher around the corner.  http://www.cochonrestaurant.com/   http://www.cochonbutcher.com/
  • Cafe Adelaide.  Named for Adelaide Brennan, and with her Andy-Warhol-style portrait gracing the walls.  Certainly on my short list of favorite New Orleans restaurants, and with a lovely bar.  It’s like eating at Commander’s but closer to your hotel, and lighter, what they call “playful Creole.”   If you go midday, here or at Commander’s, you can get 25-cent martinis with your lunch, but no more than three, “’cause that’s enough.”  And it is.  Believe me.  http://www.cafeadelaide.com/
  • Felix Oyster Bar.  On Iberville Street between Bourbon and Royal there are two Oyster houses facing each other, Acme and Felix.  Acme is the one you’ve seen on The Food Network, and it will usually have a long line of folks waiting to get in.  Skip it.  Cross over to Felix on the other side.  Less neon.  Less famous.  At worst a short line on a busy Saturday night.  Amazing food.  Chuck, Rob, and I polished off three dozen chargrilled oysters in one sitting.  Huge ones, because Mr. G, the oyster chef, liked us and picked the biggest oysters he could find for us.  Damn, my mouth is watering again.   http://www.felixs.com/
  • Red Fish Grill.  Try the BBQ oysters, oh my!  Like buffalo wings, but oysters.  Yum. Great bar as well.  My friend Carolyn and I started around the corner at Felix for our first course, then settled in later at Red Fish Grill’s bar for a second course.   http://www.redfishgrill.com/index2.html
  • The Praline Connection.  Classic New Orleans soul food, on Frenchmen Street.  I’m especially fond of the collard greens, fried chicken livers, and catfish.   http://www.pralineconnection.com/
  • Mother’s.  Line up, and while you’re waiting read over the enormous menu that will be handed to you when you walk in.  If you’re not ready to order when you get to the register, move back until you are.  Order your food, pick up your drinks, and find a table.  Don’t worry, there are plenty of empty tables in the back.  A waitress will bring your order to you no matter where you sit.  Have the Ferdi Special.  You’re welcome.  http://www.mothersrestaurant.net/
  • Salon by Sucre.  Sucre is an exquisite bakery specializing in French macarons.  Upstairs is the Salon, which is a beautiful restaurant and bar. Stop by for a drink, an appetizer, or a whole meal.  Save room for a macaron for dessert – luckily they don’t take up much space.  http://www.restaurantsalon.com/
  • Cafe du Monde.  This is not a meal, unless you usually eat donuts and coffee for a meal.  I don’t judge.  For me, this is dessert, snack, and people-watching.  Beignets are fried dough, traditionally eaten here with cafe au lait.  You’ll want to order a glass of water, too.  Don’t wear black – these beignets are doused with powdered sugar.  http://www.cafedumonde.com/
  • Dat Dog.  If I were to create a hot dog stand, this would be it.  As casual as the day is long, with indoor and outdoor seating.  Great bar, with about 30 different beers, good wine, and a solid cocktail menu.  Endless combinations of sausages, toppings, breads – if it’s too much to choose from, just ask for the chef’s choice.  They’ll whip up something guaranteed to be wacky and delicious.  http://www.datdog.com/
  • Willa Jean.  Willa Jean is a member of John Besh’s family of restaurants.  It is loud and light and has amazing food.  We went for brunch.  Have the artichoke and cheese business.  Also the frosé is delightful.  I found Besh’s flagship August to be stuffy and pretentious (I’ll have to go back to prove myself wrong), but I love Luke on St. Charles, and now I love Willa Jean.  http://www.willajean.com/
  • The Pelican Club.  I love The Pelican Club.  It is on the lovely little alley called Exchange Place in the FQ, and if you weren’t looking for it, you wouldn’t know it was there.  Inside it is bigger than it looks on the outside.  It is elegant without being in the least bit pretentious.  The food is outstanding.  http://www.pelicanclub.com/


I could go on.  And on.  I’ll stop now, but will add to this list occasionally.



Empty Nest

I have two sons:  Andrew is 24, and Rob is 21.  Andrew graduated from Barrington High School in 2010, and happily accepted High Point University’s offer of admission and a Presidential Scholarship.  What he didn’t accept, at least at first, was our insistence that he attend HPU’s Summer Experience, a sort-of boot camp for incoming freshmen.  Eventually he acquiesced and accepted his fate.  He would spend one month during the summer taking two classes, adjusting to dorm life, and making friends.  In hindsight, he thanked us for insisting that he do this, but at the time, he was resigned rather than excited.

Andrew and I arrived in High Point, NC and moved him into his dorm, met his summer roommate, and took a trip to Target to buy the essentials we hadn’t packed.  When all that was done, with a bit of false cheer and bravado, he suddenly turned, hugged me, and said “oh, mama – I don’t know what to do next.”  This from my unbelievably cheerful, effervescent, friendly son, who has never met a stranger, only a buddy he doesn’t know yet.  When Andrew was under one we said he would someday be either a politician or a game show host – he was that outgoing.  The honorary mayor of Barrington at five.  But faced with being left in a strange place, knowing no one, he had a moment of panic.  I said, “look – the guys across the hall have a big screen TV with the World Cup Soccer on, and their door is open.  That’s an invitation.  You go, introduce yourself, and watch a little bit.  I’ll wait here.”  He said, “no, you have to go.  I’ll be okay.”  And we both took a deep breath, and we went out, he to the boys across the hall, me to my car.

When I got to my car, I realized I had left my car keys in Andrew’s room.  I didn’t want to cramp his inchoate style, so I went to the Student Center across the parking lot, bought a coffee, sat in the sun while I drank it, and THEN went back up to Andrew’s room.  When he saw me in the hall, he broke from his new little posse and said, “what are you DOING here?  GO!!!”  So I went.  I got my keys, got in the car, and drove the 269 miles to my hotel for the night.  And I wept, not so much that I couldn’t safely drive, but for at least 100 of those miles.  I wept for the young man who made an effort to not need me anymore, for the anxiety we both felt, and for the end of my hands-on parenting of this remarkable man.

Three years later, and it was time to send Rob off to college.  Rob graduated from BHS in 2013.  He applied to one college, Tulane University, was accepted, and won a whopping full tuition scholarship.  In August 2013, Chuck and I drove one car, while Rob and Andrew drove the other, to High Point, to move Andrew back into his campus apartment.  He shared this for three of his four years with two of his original freshmen year roommates, one of whom he bonded with during Summer Experience.  From there, Chuck, Rob, and I continued down I-85 toward Atlanta and on to New Orleans, to move Rob into HIS Summer Experience, called NOLA week, at Tulane.  We were told that Rob could have one suitcase and one duffle bag, and nothing more, for that first week, so we dropped him at Tulane and drove away, but stayed in New Orleans for the week with the rest of his belongings.  Chuck saw clients and worked while I wandered the city, visiting museums and restaurants and galleries, but had almost no contact with Rob.  On Move-In Day, we returned to Tulane, unpacked the rest of Rob’s belongings from the Pilot, and settled him in to his room.  Unlike Andrew, Rob had not met his college besties during the pre-orientation week, but he met them on that move-in day.  He shooed us away, and we headed for Rhode Island.  In the car, somewhere in Georgia, Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” came on the radio.  “I’ve been afraid of changing, ’cause I’ve built my life around you.”  I started to sob, to grieve, to shriek.  I had built my life around my children.  I had no aspirations beyond growing good men.  Now that they were launched, who was I?  Who am I now, if no longer full time mama?  I was bereft, panicked, mourning.

I cried off and on for about a week.  And then life went on.  Luna the shepherd-poodle and I spent a lot of time together, and I missed the companionship and sounds of my sons and their friends in my house.  I missed Rob’s piano, the soundtrack of my daily life.  I didn’t miss the endless dirty dishes and boxer shorts left laying about.  I missed the laughs.

It’s been another three years since we became empty-nesters, and the first in seven years that we haven’t had a road trip south to set up someone’s dorm or apartment and make someone’s bed.  This adds another layer to the syndrome – what we lost in emptying our nest we mildly replaced with summer move-in rituals, now gone.  Our men are where they are going, at least for now.

This weekend Andrew was home to participate in a friend’s wedding.  I took him to the airport Sunday afternoon, and I cried on the way home.  Every time my boys leave I feel a shadow of that empty-nest grief.  I love them, and I applaud their independence – after all, wasn’t that the goal of our parenting, to raise men who could leave and thrive without us?  I am more at peace than I was with my new role – although I’m not sure what that is.  I have no idea what comes next, and that’s usually okay.

But when they leave, I cry a little bit.


Empty-Nest Grilled Cheese

  • Chewy, Jewish-style Rye bread
  • Cheddar cheese
  • Swiss cheese
  • soft butter
  • Dijon mustard, optional

Use about four slices of cheese per sandwich.  Spread soft butter on one side of the bread, then place on a cold griddle.  Turn heat to medium, and leave it alone until toasty and brown, about 7 minutes.  Spread butter on the top of the sandwich, then flip.  Cook another 7 minutes or so.  Remove to a plate, cut on the diagonal, and eat.

I washed it down with a Gold Rush:

  • 1.5 ounces bourbon
  • 1 ounce Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur
  • .5 ounce fresh lemon juice

Shake all ingredients over ice, and strain into a martini glass.


Kettle Corn or Chicago Mix?

I love popcorn.   I once dated an English man who said that the three things he didn’t understand about Americans were popcorn, peanut butter, and Billy Joel.  Regardless, I think popcorn is fabulous. I love my whirlypop corn popper, for fresh hot popcorn with a slight coconut taste from the oil, and sufficient salt.  Mmm.  Nothing like it.  Thanks, Kathleen, this was an awesome gift.  I even like the popcorn at the movie theater, with the “liquid gold” fake butter oil added.  Bring extra napkins and a bottle of water.

That said, this post is about prepackaged popcorn.    There are a few noteworthy bags out there:  SmartFood, with its cheddary coating.  Popcorn, Indiana’s kettlecorn.  Wise Butter Popcorn, for the old-school snack food taste.  But the popcorn bags which vie for my love are Nettie’s Kettle Corn and G.H Cretor’s Chicago Mix.

Nettie’s, I’m proud to say, is a Rhode Island brand.  I first tasted it at our local Barrington farmer’s market, and I was hooked.  It was available in regular, cinnamon, maple, and sugar-free (which I bought because, you know, diet, but it tasted every bit like artificial sweeteners).  Every Saturday I would buy a large regular bag, charmingly packaged in a long plastic bag with a little twist-tie.  Very much a small operation.  The next year, Nettie’s didn’t appear at the market, but Voila!  I found it at my local supermarket, Shaw’s.  O!  Joy.  I no longer had to wait until Saturday markets!  I could get my fix any time.  And I did.  Now, I don’t have a very addictive personality.  I quit smoking with no withdrawal and no side effects.  But kettle corn?  I was jonesing.  It was the whole bag or nothing.  I turned my friend Liz onto Nettie’s – now she has to have it every day.  Liz is a remarkably disciplined person.  She has one cup of Nettie’s per day, after work.  I can’t do it that way.  If the bag is opened, I will eat it until it’s gone.  Once in a while I’ll buy it, saying that I’m buying it for the boys or a houseguest.  That’s a lie.  Like I said, I’m an addict.  https://www.nettieskettlecorn.com.&nbsp;

And then I discovered G.H. Cretor’s Chicago Mix.  Chicago Mix, according to G.H. Cretor’s, is a mix of cheddar and caramel corn.  It is salty and sweet, like kettle corn, but oh so different.  It isn’t just salty and sweet.  It is cheddary and caramelly.  In the same handful.  When I was about 10, we visited a family who were friends of my parents, and they had a big holiday can of popcorn, divided into three, with one section each of butter, cheddar, and caramel popcorn.  Heaven.  Chicago Mix is like that, only not divided and without the plain butter popcorn.  Here’s a question for any readers from Chicago:  is this a Thing?  Do you randomly go to popcorn shops in the Loop and order Chicago Mix, and get a blend of cheddar and caramel popcorn?  Is this a regular snack in the Windy City?  It may be the best thing about an already great city. http://www.ghcretors.com/chicago_mix/

There will be no settling this question. No competition. I’ll keep enjoying them both. I might even buy some for you, but if I do, be prepared to share it with me. 

The Best Thing I Ever Cooked

I don’t know what the best thing I ever cooked is.  I couldn’t tell you what the best thing I ever ate is, either.  There are too many wonderful foods and meals out there.  I didn’t get this body by missing a meal – although that’s a topic for a different post.  Back to the point raised by the title:  I love to cook, and there are a few dishes that stand out as deserving the title accolade.  Many times I cook a lovely dinner, and I enjoy it, and I can still find fault with it.  This is not self-deprecation.  I’m not saying that I failed or that I am a lousy cook.  Andrew calls it reviewing the game tape:  it is an assessment of the process, the product, and how I can improve in future.  Don’t all artists do this?  Is it self-aggrandizing to class myself with artists?  I don’t know.  Probably.  But if I have an art, it is culinary.  So here’s a few of the Best Things I Ever Cooked (or Baked), in no particular order:

Seared Scallops with Creamed Corn and Candied Bacon.  This is a dish that I had two years ago at Trafford’s, a restaurant on the water in Warren, RI.  It was on their appetizer menu, which seemed odd, since it is quite filling.  It was pretty good, and I thought as I ate it that I could recreate it, even improve on it.  I made it and posted a picture of it on Facebook, and got so much positive feedback –  offers of marriage, places to live, etc., if I would just cook it for the offerers.  Mom asked if I would make it for her the next time she visited, to which I readily agreed and quickly forgot.  Luckily, so did she!  Two years later, Mom is visiting again, and the photo popped up in my Facebook feed.  So I finally made the dish for her.  It was sublime.


Mai’s Pulled Pork Bahn Mi.  My friend Mai Donahue is an extraordinary woman, and a renowned cook.  Her memoir, Crossing the Bamboo Bridge, was released on September 1, and I read it in two sittings. Mai’s life story is even more remarkable than her outstanding food. Mai’s Pulled Pork Bahn Mi, or Vietnamese sandwiches, are fabulous, and she will often make them to sell for fundraisers.  How lucky that she has given me her recipe!  I make them a few times a year, usually when the boys are home.  A few years ago a friend of Rob’s asked me for the recipe so he could ask his mom to make it, because “she’s never cooked anything this good before.”    Here’s the link to Mai’s website, and the bahn mi recipe:  http://www.maigoodness.com/recipes-banhmi.html


Oxtail Ragú.  I think oxtail was once a cheap protein source, but now it is pricey for a low-meat-to-bone-ratio food.  This ragú is a fairly time-consuming dish, but done over a weekend, it is well worth the intermittent time.  When I’m feeling especially crafty, I make gnocchi from scratch to serve under the ragu.  Oh, my – my mouth is watering just thinking about it.  I got the original recipe from the brilliant Mario Batali’s website, and I added a few steps and changed some details, as I usually do.

Mushroom Lasagne.  Chuck & I host Thanksgiving for the extended Oltman-Bertinuson-Porcher-Smith family every year, except 2015, when we were in Cuba.  About 10 years ago I discovered this recipe on Epicurious:  Wild Mushroom Lasagne, and I made it for the vegetarians.  It was so flavorful, decadent, wonderful, that it became a staple of our feast table, and even the turkey-eaters expect it now.


THE Chocolate Cake.  My friend Martha gave me this recipe a few years ago, and it is, quite simply, the best chocolate cake I’ve ever had. It is beautifully hard to screw up.

40 Clove Chicken.  Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic is a classic dish, like the French Chicken in a Pot.  The smell while it cooks is unbelievable!  The garlic melts and mellows through the slow braising, and the finished product is definitely greater than the sum of its parts.  The problem with the published recipes I’ve read is that the chicken skin gets soggy and unappealing, and the garlic is messy and problematic to squeeze out of its skin and spread on bread.  My version is simpler, richer, and absolutely amazing.  Recipe is in my January 20, 2017 post. 


Too Hot to Cook Gumbo?

As I’ve said before, Sunday is my cooking day.  I sleep a little bit later than on a workday (6:30 instead of 5:30), brew a pot of coffee while I think about what I will be making during the day, and head off to the supermarket.  I’m glad that the Shaw’s employees get to sleep a little later, too, since the store opens at 7 instead of the weekday 6.  I’m usually one of the first customers there, which means no line at the deli, but also no fish yet on display.  It’s a worthwhile trade-off, because I loathe the deli line, and I’m happy to circle back around for my seafood.

Chuck should be home for most of the week, so I buy sliced turkey for his lunches, and plan a few dinners.  I haven’t made gumbo in a while, and there is a package of fresh okra in the produce section, so I grab that and pick up some of the other ingredients I will need.  When I get home, I think it’s just too hot to stand over the stove making a roux, but dammit, if the New Orleans cooks can do it, so can I.  More on this later.

What will we want to eat this week, when it’s too hot and humid to do much cooking?  At the market I get chicken breast for Lemon Chicken.  Mahi-Mahi, which is excellent to grill (note to self:  fill the tanks for the grill).  Lentils and parsley for Lentil Salad.  Chopped fresh broccoli. Watermelon.  The world’s largest beet.  I think about making Seared Scallops with Creamed Corn and Candied Bacon, but will get the corn and scallops the day I make that.  I grab a few cans of baked beans and a package of hot dogs, in case I don’t feel like cooking one night (VERY good chance of that).

When I get home, it is about 8:15, and not yet too hot in the house.  I put away the groceries, feed Luna, and cook the lentils and the beet.  Not together.  The Lentil Salad is easy and delicious:  1 cup lentils cooked until tender but not falling apart, half a red onion diced fine, three cloves of garlic minced, a whole bunch of flat parsley chopped, salt, pepper, olive oil, champagne vinegar.  I usually roast beets, but I think it’s too hot to turn on the oven, so I cook this one on the stove in a little water, then peel and cube it, ready to add to salads.  I also prep egg salad, then put waaaay too much mayonnaise in it, so I add two more eggs and another stalk of celery – now we have enough egg salad to feed a large family.  Next:  Cheater Broccoli Slaw:  one bag of pre-chopped broccoli slaw mixed with 1/4 cup Makato Ginger Dressing.  That should hold us.

My refrigerator is full, so I move a few things to the basement fridge:  eggplants, cucumber, watermelon.  This is risky, since I tend to forget things once they land down there.  Right now I notice last week’s whole broccoli, with which I intended to make Southern Broccoli Salad.  The tips of the flowers are looking a little weary and yellowish – can I still make that salad?  It might be better roasted instead.



Now it’s 10:30 and starting to heat up.  I wash the dishes I’ve used, start the dishwasher, turn on the A.C., and sit down to think about gumbo.

I made my first gumbo when I was about 14.  I had heard of it but never tasted it, and when I found a recipe in a magazine I decided to try it.  It was an all-day affair, and by the time it was done I was sick of the very smell.  It tasted weird.  I was disappointed – all that work, and I didn’t even like it?  I’m not sure what I was expecting, but THAT wasn’t it.

Fast forward 30 years or so, and I had gumbo at Commander’s Palace.  It was a revelation. Gumbo is a perfect metaphor for New Orleans, the imperfect-perfect melting pot.  Dark, rich, complex, heady broth, with silky vegetables and flavorful proteins, and a scoop of rice to soak up all those flavors.  It is historic, and slow, and spicy.  Hot and satisfying.  The taste of it lingers on my tongue and in my memory.

One of the best gumbos I’ve had in recent memory was at a fish market & restaurant in Daphne, Alabama, across the bay from Mobile.  We were driving from Pensacola Beach, Fl to New Orleans, and Chuck found this place on Yelp, called Market by the Bay.  When we walked in, the apparent owner came up to us and said, “Y’all are new here.  Taste the gumbo.”  I assured him that we would be ordering it regardless, based on Yelp reviews, but he said no, we should taste it first.  He called to one of the servers to dish us up a few samples.  The smell was hypnotic, and the taste was sublime.  My mouth is watering now thinking of it.  It was amazing.  We ordered a bowl and an oyster po-boy to split.  There were even hushpuppies on the plate, one of my favorite starches.  I made moany little happy noises the whole time I ate.


Now that AC has cooled the room and the ice water I’m drinking has cooled my innards, I gather my ingredients.  I have chicken, home-made chicken stock, fresh okra, creole seasoning, celery, onion, peppers – Crap!  I forgot to buy sausage!  Instead of andouille, I prefer Portuguese chorizo, made locally in Fall River.  So I venture back out into the heat and humidity to pick it up.

My gumbo recipe is based on this:  http://neworleanscuisine.blogspot.com/2005/03/chicken-andouille-gumbo-recipe.html  The blog is wonderful.  I’m sorry to say I don’t know the blogger’s name or gender, but I think of him as a him.  Check out “First You Start With a Roux…” before attempting the gumbo. http://neworleanscuisine.blogspot.com/2005/02/first-you-start-with-roux.html  I love that he instructs us to open a beer, and sip it slowly while making the roux – don’t rush either the beer or the roux.

One of my goals in making gumbo is to have it as dark as I can make it.  I’ve had gumbo in New Orleans that is darker than mine, and I can’t quite figure out how to get it there.  Now that I make gumbo regularly, I compare every bowl of it eaten in the Gulf South to my own. That gumbo in Alabama was the color of DARK chocolate.  The blogger says to cook the roux for about half an hour?  I go at least 45 minutes. It’s beautiful, it’s flavorful and rich, but it isn’t chocolate brown.  Damn it.  I haven’t mastered that dark brown, but mine is pretty good.  It’s even pretty great.


Ellen’s Chicken & Sausage Gumbo

Having all the ingredients chopped and measured before beginning is a good idea.  I don’t always do it, but I always regret when I don’t.

  • 1 cold bottle of beer – my preference is Abita, but it’s hard to find in Lil’ Rhody
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons creole seasoning – I use Tony Chachere’s
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • about three quarters of a cup of each, chopped:  onion, green (or mixed) bell pepper, celery – The Holy Trinity of New Orleans cooking
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 cup sliced okra, either fresh or frozen.
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 whole Portuguese hot chorizo, about half a pound, cut into bite-sized pieces.  You can use Andouille if you prefer.
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 3.5 cups chicken stock

Open the beer and take a sip.  Place the butter and oil in a large heavy pot over medium heat.  Sip the beer.  When the butter melts, sprinkle the flour over the top.  Have another sip of beer.  Whisk the flour and fats together until incorporated, then shake off the whisk and switch to a wooden spoon.  Cook over medium heat for at least half an hour, probably more like 45 minutes, until the color of milk chocolate.  Remember to sip your beer slowly, and stir your roux slowly.  At all costs, avoid getting splashed with the roux – it is what Chef Paul Prudhomme called Cajun Napalm.  It is important to stir regularly, if not continuously, but slowly.  If you stir too vigorously, it will be a long, long time cooking as the fast stir cools it down.  If you neglect it, the flour will burn and your roux will be ruined.

When your roux is at least as dark as this, add the Holy Trinity, the creole seasoning, the garlic, and the thyme.  Stir to coat completely, then cook until the vegetables have begun to soften.   Add the okra and the chicken, stir to coat completely, and cook until the chicken is opaque.  Add the remaining ingredients.  Stir, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer. Simmer for at least a couple hours, stirring occasionally.  If the gumbo appears too thick, you can add more chicken stock.  I never have this problem – I always add too much and then swear.

Serve in a bowl or soup plate with a scoop of hot rice – I prefer white, but brown works too.


If you decide to try this recipe, and you get your roux darker than mine, please let me know how you did it.

To Austin, from Me

Beautifully written elegy to frying chicken and Austin Leslie. Not necessarily in that order.

The Accidental Cajun

Looking down into the burnished black void that is the bottom of my deep sided cast iron skillet, the slowly heating peanut oil still a lake of calm, I find myself thinking again about a man whom I’ve never met. Austin Leslie. There is a beautiful symmetry in the name, a lilting four syllables. It sounds like the name of a mayor, or president, as much as a chef. There is a certain regality about it. And many would say he was the king of fried chicken, another of my obsessions. As I slip a thigh, skin side down into the skillet, the oil now

15700321-mmmain Austin Leslie (photo by Jason Perlow)

roiling as the seasoned flour clouds it, I think about both Austin and how I got here, frying chicken in a kitchen in New Orleans, LA.

There is a certain indirectness about the life of a cook. Hardly anyone…

View original post 685 more words

Three Summer Cocktails

Here are three cocktails that I make and enjoy in the summer – light and fresh, using seasonal ingredients, without being overly sweet or cloying.

img_1146Watermelon-Mint Martini

  • 1/2 cup watermelon cubes – doesn’t matter if it’s seedless or not, since you will be straining the drink.
  • About eight fresh mint leaves, plus another for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon simple syrup or St. Germain (optional)
  • 2 ounces vodka

Reserve one cube of watermelon, and muddle the rest in a glass with the mint leaves.  Add the lime & syrup, fill with ice, then add the vodka.  Shake well and strain into a martini glass.  Garnish with the mint and watermelon cube.

NB:  A similar drink can be made with fresh dark cherries.  Muddle about five of them, without their stems.  Proceed as above, omitting the watermelon.


img_1151Basil Gimlet

I’ve been seeing these on menus a lot lately, although, oddly enough, not in Vermont.  The bartender at Verde in the Stratton Village made me one, following my directions, but using elderflower liqueur (St. Germain) instead of simple syrup.  Fabulous!

  • Five or six fresh basil leaves, more or less to taste (my taste says you can’t use too many)
  • 1 quarter of a fresh lime
  • 1 teaspoon simple syrup or St. Germain, or more to taste
  • 2 ounces Hendricks gin, or what you have on hand

Muddle basil and lime wedge in a glass.  Add simple syrup, and fill with ice.  Add gin, then shake well.  Strain into a martini glass.  Float a small whole basil leaf as garnish.


img_1153Fresh Peach Woo-Woo

This one is usually made with vodka, although it’s extra special with silver tequila

In the glass of a Boston shaker, put one quarter of a ripe peach.  Add 1 tablespoon lime juice and 1 teaspoon peach schnapps, and muddle.  Half-fill with ice, then add 2 ounces vodka or silver tequila and 1.5 ounces cranberry juice.

Shake well, then strain into a glass with ice.  Garnish with a slice of peach.

Thanks to Nina & Tonchy for the spiffy Mason jar mugs.