Food, Family, and Memory

teacakesFor those of you that have children, I am sure you (like me) spend your Saturday’s and Sunday’s at the park or gym, watching children, small and large, playing with balls. Basketballs, soccer balls, footballs, baseballs, and lacrosse balls. Three boys, 3-6 games (depending on Isaac’s travel basketball schedule), spent at the park and gym.

Oh, and then there is the weekly team snack. I have tried to outlaw it, or outlaw certain snack items, but I am often met with the evil eye and that look of “is she crazy or just stupid”. I simply do not understand how so many of these parents think that a bag of pre-packaged chips, a plastic bottle containing colored liquid,  or a sandwich filled cookie equates to something they would want their child to put in their body after they just did something wonderful for their body!?

I have learned to keep my mouth shut and instead, hopefully teach by doing. For Levi’s last football game, I was snack mom. Tea cakes have become our latest and greatest and we can’t decide if they are a muffin, a cake, or a cupcake. Really doesn’t matter what they are – they are delicious.

With mini orange and chocolate chip tea cakes in hand, fruit kebabs, and water, not only were the parents “ooing and aahing”, but the kids were asking for seconds. Sometimes with kids it is all about the presentation, and having fruit on a stick was a sure fire winner.

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From the Los Angeles Times 

creamcheese.jpg The happy childhood goes like this: My mother unwraps the silver boxes of cream cheese as if they are presents. She beats the soft cheese – the crack of eggs, a dust-storm of sugar – into pale snowbanks in the bowl while she lets me crush the graham crackers with a hammer. I sneak a few butter-laced crumbs and, later, watch the cooling cheesecake with that wistful ache children can have about certain foods. Such moments, repeated through the years, transform simple favorites into profound emblems.

Cheesecake has that kind of power; it also has range. Stamped with an ancient provenance (Alan Davidson reports a description of a Roman cheesecake in Cato's 2nd century "De Re Rustica") and European pedigree, it's made with ricotta in Italy, quark (a fresh curd cheese) or farmer cheese in Eastern Europe. And the distinctive texture and clean flavor of classic American cheesecakes comes from silky smooth, creamy but tart cream cheese.

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egg-&-truffels.jpgI turned fifty-two last week.  While I’m told that fifty-two is the new thirty-eight, no one told my metabolism.  It seems to have slowed even more than I have.  Knowing this, and knowing that the only way to really celebrate a birthday is to eat and then eat some more, my wife, Peggy, and I had been dieting from the end of the holidays to the big day – ten whole days.  And when the big day came, we wasted no time in returning to our post-holiday fighting weight.  Here is how we did it.

Thursday, my actual birthday, was the big kick off.  We went to Patina for its annual truffle dinner.  Patina has been having these extravagant dinners in honor of the truffle – yes, it is celebrating a fungus, but what a fungus - for the past several years, and we always talked about going, and this year, the dinner fell on my birthday.  Given that Peggy and I have been together for almost 30 years, and she has simply run out of things to buy me as a birthday gift, especially just two weeks after Christmas, we decided that this would be it.  She couldn’t have done better.

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nkcNat King Cole holds some magical power over me. I was shopping the week before Thanksgiving when I heard it--

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,
Jack Frost nipping on your nose,

Yuletide carols being sung by a choir,

And folks dressed up like Eskimos.


That most mellow of voices (along with Frank and Bing) transfixes me. I hear it, and I'm instantly struck with holiday cheer, which for me, means shopping for foods such as cranberries, pomegranates, and, of course, chestnuts.

Here's the thing with roasting chestnuts. The actual roasting and removing of the nut from its shell is a lot less romantic than it sounds. Every year growing up it was the same thing: We would enthusiastically purchase a big bag of fresh chestnuts, roast them, and then puncture our fingers in a desperate attempt to eke out the tiniest piece of chestnut we could find that wasn't studded with sharp shards of shell or tinged with mold.

Thank goodness someone came up with bottled chestnuts. My mom first bought them a few years ago and sent me some. I removed the bottle top and, in 5 seconds flat, was eating a chewy, moist, chestnut devoid of shell and mold. Bottled chestnuts can be found at most organic markets and Italian specialty markets. I also like Trader Joe's vacuumed-packed chestnuts.

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freddetartI saw a beautiful fruit tart today, but I didn’t buy it. Though one brief glimpse of its light crust, glistening white cream & assorted seasonal berries and our whole intense love affair came rushing back.

It’s the mid 1970’s. The place: Patrick Terrail’s West Hollywood restaurant Ma Maison. An old house on Melrose converted into the most innovative, modern French restaurant of its day. It was so very French and so very Hollywood, and when those two worlds collided on that patio of Astroturf and umbrellas, it was magic.

Big Hollywood deals were made, infamous fights broke out, and occasionally I was lucky enough – if someone with more money was paying—to be there, enjoying the food. That’s where it began – an infatuation that would turn into a stalker’s obsession. They had me at crème anglaise.

I was there a lot with Jackie Mason, which sounds so random, sort of like my celebrity dreams, but he was a friend of my dad’s and we went as his guest, or vice versa. Often, when we were at a meal with Jackie, he would do his bit:

Gentiles never finish drinking, Jews never finish eating. What do you think Jews talk about for breakfast? Where to eat lunch. At lunch: "Where should we have dinner?"

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