Izzy (and Mama) Eat: The Gourmand Grows up...

Tales of Empty Nesting ...The Next Chapter

Saturday, May 31, 2008

A Lone Strawberry

Not just any strawberry, mind you, but a certified organic, Alpine strawberry from our garden. Miraculously, the squirrels did not get their paws on it first.

Instead I allowed Izzy to pluck it and seeing as it was too tiny to share, he had it all to himself. I hope the others ripen so I will have the chance to sample their sweetness myself.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Radishes Rethought: Greenmarket Inspiration

Cooked radishes? Not on my radar. It was always my understanding that radishes are to be served raw with butter, black bread and a bit of salt.

Dina Cutrone, a personal chef (not mine!) has taught me otherwise. I have stopped by her booth at the Union Square Greenmarket for two weeks in a row and each time have come home with an idea for a side dish. Each week she prepares something to showcase market ingredients and hands out samples. Last week it was asparagus with spring garlic, this week, radishes with spring garlic and chives.

Last night we had the diced radishes with spring garlic. Sauteing the radishes mellows their flavor substantially and making them kid-friendly. They are pretty to look at too. I paired this dish with grilled steak and potatoes. While I was cooking, Izzy was eager to sample it. Once on his plate, he ate his steak and potatoes and left the radishes.

I noticed them sitting there, all lonely on his plate, and managed to entice him to finish them. Which he eventually did, happily at that. How did I do it? That is a story for another day. For today I say, buy radishes and dice them, you will not be disappointed.

Radishes with Spring Garlic (serves 4-6 as a side dish)

1 bunch of radishes
1 bunch of spring garlic
olive oil
raw apple cider vinegar

1. Dice radishes and finely slice white and light green parts garlic.
2. Saute garlic in a tablespoon or two of olive oil until soft, then add radishes and saute 5-10 minutes until softened. Season with sea salt and pepper to taste.
3. Whisk 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with 3 teaspoons agave, then add 4-6 tablespoons of olive oil or to taste. Pour over sauteed radishes, sprinkle with chopped chives and serve.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Rambutan: From Tropical Fruit To Animal Accessory

As I perused the produce department at Whole Foods a couple of weeks ago, I did a double take in front of a peculiar Lychee-looking fruit. When I stopped to inspect, an employee informed me that what I was examining was in fact, similar to a Lycee but called a Rambutan. I was intrigued and they allowed me to sample. It was definitely rather Lychee-like in both flavor and texture, though less sweet. I brought home a bagful, knowing that Izzy would be intrigued.

We dissected one together, slicing gently through the tough, wiry exterior, revealing the soft fruit inside.

After having consumed the entire bag. Yes. He did like them. We were left with all of these funny, spiky shells.

Izzy immediately put them to good use.

Elephant looks fetching, doesn't he?

Polar Bear doesn't look too shabby either.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cotton Candy: Look Whose Eating It Now

A sight to behold.

When I came upon this happy group at the Mayor's Block Party at Hamilton Park, I knew that the time had come. After all, the second woman from the left is 90 years old. Could cotton candy be the secret to longevity?

These fine old ladies were a sure sign that I could no longer keep one of the finer junk foods from Izzy. Believe it or not, I didn't hesitate for a second when he asked if he could have some.

Izzy watched as they spun their magic. For indeed there is something magical about that sugary fluff.

Then he couldn't wait to get his hands on it. Nor could I!

He did allow me to share it with him but had to keep reminding me not to eat it all. Next time I might just have to get my own.

And wouldn't you know, Izzy is already envisioning his very own cotton candy machine. "Mama, can we make this at home? Is it organic?"

No sweetie. It's not organic but maybe ours can be.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Pez Pusher: She Strikes Again

It happened around this time last year and she's back. This time with something even worse, Pez. Nobody can stop her. Her sisters tried to warn me but it was of no use. Once he had the dispenser in hand I couldn't wrench it away from him. He put four candies inside his dispenser and I promptly removed the rest.

An informant told me that he was caressing the dispenser as he examined the goods within. I watched him from afar and when he caught me glancing his way, he quickly hid the booty, slyly pretending to be doing something else. When he knew I was on to him, he ran off giggling.

Later on he asked, "Why do those candies look like medicine? Why don't you eat some too?" It hadn't occurred to me but they do look an awful lot like medication of some kind. Certainly another strike against them.

p.s. I had a thing for Pez dispensers as a child. I also probably had a thing for Pez. The package says "natural flavors." I must investigate

That Wasn't A Dinner Party, Was It?

Izzy pondered on our way home from a Graduation/Memorial Day celebration for my sister C.

It was 7:00 pm., the time when we would normally be eating dinner. Izzy complained, "All I ate was a hotdog and now I am hungry. We didn't even have dinner." I knew it would end this way but I was powerless to change the course of events., brought on by the "Sunday Supper" frame of mind.

I was introduced to this concept of early supper in high school, thru my boyfriend R.'s family. Every Sunday they invited me for an Italian-American meal at about three in the afternoon. I would eat with them (How could I turn down the most fabulous rotisserie pork roast?) but then I would go home and by seven or eight in the evening, I would be ready for another meal. Back then two meals weren't a problem for my svelte shape, now it's a different story.

So of course, Izzy's hunger did not surprise me. It was rather my inability to come up with an adequate solution. We arrived at the party at 4 p.m. He had a hot dog within the first half hour and then was off frolicking in the grass. Between juice boxes and sugar shots (see post to follow), Izzy was too busy to think about eating anything else. He did miss some yummy offerings, especially these ribs which I had made a few years ago and still remembered. I passed on the recipe to my stepmother who promptly prepared 75 ribs! They didn't taste as sweet as I had imagined but they were still quite good.

There were platters of hors d'oeuvres, chicken legs and other nibbly snacks but Izzy just never found his way to the table. And sadly, we missed dessert since we had to leave before the cake or cookies were served. I, on the other hand, couldn't stay away from the ribs and even at a grilled hotdog (How could I resist my favorite brand?). Even so, I could have still eaten a bit more when it came to my regular dinner hour.

When we arrived home at 7:30 p.m., Izzy insisted on sitting down at the table for a light meal. He had half of a turkey sausage link, some yellow pepper slices and a small piece of bread. After eating that he insisted that his belly was still empty but I insisted that he go to bed, explaining that he would have to wait until morning.

So back to Izzy's question: Was it a dinner party? In this case I would have to say it was an afternoon of grazing especially since there was no sit-down meal. As for the early Sunday meal, I'm still not sure what to make of it or how to cope, since I, for one, can no longer consume two dinners and there is no joy in preparing another meal for my child when ostensibly dinner is over.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Purple Romaine: Our First Harvest

Last week we snipped some leaves from our lettuce crop. Izzy and I tiptoed out on the dewy morning grass and brought in enough leaves for his lunch. He needed to sample one immediately. The verdict? "This is not lettuce. It tastes like purple spinach. Can I have some more?"

I was going to make him a cheese sandwich but all he wanted was "Lettuce and Mayonnaise." At first I bristled at the thought of a mayonnaise sandwich but have since gotten used to it and try to find other ways of incorporating protein into his lunch. Especially since I see many more lettuce sandwiches in his future. Apparently you can snip the outer leaves of the lettuce heads and leaves will continue to grow.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Party Garden: Izzy Inspired

Deciding how to celebrate Izzy's fifth birthday was no easy task. You see he had ideas pertaining to outer space whereas my ideas leaned toward mud. I was not at all inspired to transform our yard into a planet so I came up with the gardening idea, knowing how much Izzy and his friends love to dig in the dirt.

Miraculously he agreed and Izzy's Papa obligingly created these fabulous raised beds so that we could have an organic kitchen garden, a necessity where we live since the soil is notoriously toxic.

Before the party, I selected a bunch of items from Silver Heights Farms at the Union Square Greenmarket on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Herbs, lettuces and leeks were my first picks for the garden. I also have a few strawberry plants and heirloom tomatoes.

The initial plan was for the party goers to transplant but they ended up having such fun with their seeds and just digging that we never got to that. Instead a few days afterwards, Izzy and I worked to transplant some of the things to our planter and I am still deciding what to do with the rest.

The co-mingling of party and garden has left us with a beautiful kitchen garden which will always remind us of the year Izzy turned five.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Kedgeree At Our House: A Tea and Sympathy Recipe

Have I mentioned how wonderful it is to have a friend who cooks for me?Each time I live from her house marveling at something new which I would not usually have considered making myself.

After our delightful dinner of Kedgeree a H.'s house, I was determined to recreate a similar dish at home. It is funny how something so unlike anything I would normally prepare, became instantly appealing to both Izzy and me.

I looked to one of my British go to books, The Tea and Sympathy Cookbook, where I found something that sounded remarkably similar to what H. had made. I changed the fish around, which doesn't alter the dish significantly and allows for flexibility. H. likes to use smoked and fresh salmon. I chose Hake (which I later discovered was probably not at the top of the healthiest fish list) and Smoked Rainbow Trout.

I bought the trout at Union Square Market from Max Creek Hatchery (from East Meredith, New York. Every Wednesday, Max brings in already-cleaned fresh rainbow and brook trout from his pond. He will proudly tell you that the fish were swimming until 7pm last night. He also sells the trout smoked and has Jerusalem artichokes and Russian potatoes available to match.) It was delicious and worked very well in the dish.

Kedgeree (adapted From The Tea and Sympathy Cookbook)

@3/4 lb. smoked fish (salmon or trout both work well)
1 lb. fresh firm fish fillets

a few black peppercorns
1 sprig parsley
1 bay leaf
1 slice lemon
1/4 stick butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 lb. basmati rice
2 tablespoons curry powder
salt and pepper
4 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and quartered
chopped parsley for garnish

1. Put fresh fish, peppercorns, parsley sprig, bay leaf and lemon into a pan. Add enough water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer gently until fish is tender, about 10 minutes.
2. Transfer cooked fish to a large plate and cool. Strain the mixture left in the pan. If you do not have 5 cups of fish stock, add water.
3. Debone the fish and flake it.
4.Melt the butter in a large saute pan and cook onion until soft, add curry powder and saute one minute longer. Add the rice and fish stock, bring to a boil. Cook, covered on low about 20 minutes.
5. When the rice has cooked, add fish, salt and pepper and eggs and toss to combine. Sprinkle parsley over the top and serve.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Don't Blame Them: Children Are Beautiful No Matter What They Eat

In a recent post, a reader chides me for my supposed disregard for children who are victims of natural disasters or those raised in poverty. In response...

Dear Ms."Wonder Why You Keep Reading",

On a daily basis, we are bombarded with heartbreaking news the world over. From children of famine to disaster victims deprived of proper food. No question that hearing about these hideous circumstances causes us all to pause and to be ever thankful for what we do have and to help in our own ways.

Heartwarming stories which emerge from these sad times also help us process the horrors. One such story was highlighted in today's news. It is the tale of an heroic Chinese woman. She breastfed nine children (not her own) as she led them from the disaster. She herself did not consider the act to be noteworthy, yet she gave those children a gift. She offered them the perfect food, to help them through this crisis . This story comes to mind because the way we think about feeding our children begins there. Many Americans might be surprised at what she did or find it unimaginable. I would have done what she did in an instant.

Breast milk is the first, ideal food for human infants. The sad fact is that most American women do not breastfeed their babies beyond six months of age. Some don't even give breastfeeding a chance at all. Instead they turn to industrially produced formula. When it is time for solid foods and snacks they give their children processed puffs and jarred baby foods.

How and why parents choose to feed their delightful, intelligent children in this way pains me. Of course the children eating goldfish are beautiful as are those drinking from a bottle. Have I ever suggested otherwise? You are missing the point completely if you think I look askance at these children. I adore children and only wish that what they ate matched their beauty. For there can be so much wonder and excitement to be found in nourishing foods.

Why in our land of plenty do so many parents continue to feed their babies formula and their children junk food on a regular basis? There are numerous reasons, stemming from government subsidies, big business marketing strategies and a myriad of other causes too lengthy to go into (see Michael Pollan's, In Defense of Food) in this post. Suffice it to say that many parents are simply misguided.

Food prices are continually on the rise and in other countries staple items such as rice are becoming prohibitively expensive. What is truly shocking (aside from the "horror" you find in my blog) is that Americans waste a pound of food per person daily. The way we choose to feed our families and children can help us all play a role in reducing that number.

For starters, teach your children to revere what they eat. To be thankful for wholesome foods instead of mindless snacks. To appreciate the beauty of a fresh carrot, a ripe peach, a homemade loaf of bread. Let them see the time and energy it takes to prepare a homemade meal rather than one that came from a box, jar or fast food restaurant. Help your children understand where their food comes from. Most importantly, teach them to make wise food choices.

My hero Alice Waters has been working diligently to change the way school children think about food. She so eloquently makes a case for teaching children to respect themselves through what they eat. She raised her daughter Fanny, while working at her renowned restaurant Chez Panisse. Given that Alice travels with her own olive oil, I can easily surmise that goldfish rarely, if ever, passed her daughter's lips. I strive to do the same for Izzy.

Izzy's Mama

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Smith College, Class of 2008: My Sister Graduates

My little sister, the one for whom I wrote poetry when she was two or three. The tiny one with lovely blond ringlets, who I let fall asleep on my chest when she cried inconsolably. The one who listened to music from the Wizard of Oz with me and then became frightened when I cackled like a witch. She is tiny no more.

Now she is a college graduate. On her way to getting her Masters at Brandeis, where I went to college. Funny thing is, she attended my college graduation when she was just 3 months old. I remember her in her stroller, sleeping through a fancy graduation dinner. I was tickled to have her there.

She was the first baby I loved. I taught her how to make eating peas fun. I wonder if she still likes to eat them that way, tossing them up and catching them in her mouth. Does she still have the poem I wrote about them?

She certainly has good taste in food, albeit a few picky quirks. She chose a perfect, homey restaurant on Northampton, MA, The Green Bean, for her post graduation brunch. It was a very unassuming spot. I immediately noted that the restaurant features local and organic ingredients. My sister proclaimed to have me in mind when she selected it and I couldn't have been more pleased with the choice.

Look how adorable she looks tucking into her meal...

How the day unfolded...

Graduation morning was long, more for Izzy than for me. It was sunny so he played by his chair and made it through processions, speeches and photo ops. He only became impatient as it drew closer to lunchtime. The worst occurred while we waited for a table. By then it was past 1:30 and he was beside himself with hunger, never mind that the older male relatives (I won't mention any names) went off for pizza and beer while we sat and held our place in line for the table. Poor Izzy was groaning with hunger.

When we were eventually seated I needed to demand a biscuit immediately, to fight off the hungry wolf but that only whetted his appetite further. Then this arrived.

Huevos Rancheros with Kale. One of many fabulous sounding combinations. Izzy's strange miso soup concoction came too. It was not as I had imagined but he would have eaten anything at that point. All of the dishes looked wonderful. A definite must-eat if you are in the neighborhood. Oh and completely kid-friendly, plenty of entertaining toys in a small nook in the back.

The Green Bean
241 Main St
Northampton MA
(413) 584-2326

Graduation over, flowers presented, lunch eaten; my sister and company retired to her chambers and we went back to our Bed and Breakfast, which is a whole other matter to be tended to shortly.

Monday, May 19, 2008

A Short Train Adventure: Snacks For The Road

Just Izzy and me. Two four hour train trips. Two nights in a Bed and Breakfast. No idea where or what we would be eating. Major snack prep was in order. Leaving Saturday morning, returning Sunday afternoon. This is what I packed:

4 hard-boiled eggs

4 ounces soft goat cheese

1 package of organic water crackers

1 bunch organic bananas

4 local apples

2 organic oranges

several apriums (or pluots?)

1 slice artichoke focaccia

large slice rosemary focaccia

1 large bottle Pellegrino

1 container organic dried apricots

1 container roasted cashews

1 bag organic baby carrots

1 container organic cherry tomatoes

2 Ronnybrook Farms yogurts

1 Dagoba Chocolate Bar

I packed most of this in an insulated backpack with two small ice packs. Most of the items were eaten, save for two hard-boiled eggs which became sadly mishapen and rather unappetizing in appearance and then there were the fruits:

We ended up squashing nearly all of the apriums, only two were edible. The bananas all ended in mush. Note to self: Don't let your preschooler drag an insulated backpack on the ground, even if you simply cannot carry one more thing.

On the last leg of our journey home, I had to break down and buy something on the train. Cheese and cracker platter..not too shabby.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Kedgeree In The Gabezo

Doesn't that sound romantic? The sad thing is, it could have been my gazebo. You see, when we first started looking for a place in Jersey City, I had a magnetic attraction to an adorably thin house with an incredible garden. We toured the house on at least three occasions and even put in a low bid on it, only to be rebuffed by the owners. So we continued our search and ended up in a larger house around the corner, with a less romantic, albeit more spacious, backyard.

Then a couple of years later, I met the owners of 'my house" (the romantic one) and we became friends. And even though we have been friends for about three years now, I only just had the opportunity to dine in the gazebo, one of the things that made their backyard so charming.

Once again I had the fine opportunity to be schooled in all things British, this time sampling something called Kedgeree, which is a dish featuring fish, rice and curry powder.

It looked and smelled wonderful despite H.'s claims that it was not her best attempt at this dish. And I might add that not a morsel remained on the serving plate, a testimony to its deliciousness. I will be attempting this recipe shortly and will post the recipe then.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

My Tomatoes Are Better Than Your Tomatoes: Farmers' Market Unrest In Hamilton Park

Who wouldn't love the idea of a farmers' market in Hamilton Park? We have had various permutations of one in years past and our hardworking neighborhood association has had one in the works for this season, on Wednesdays. It was certainly not their fault that the farmer from last year did not work out so well. Fact is, the produce was overpriced and not organic. I had heard that they didn't receive enough business to make it worthwhile so the market closed early before the season ended.

Then I heard tell of another farmers' market in the works, scheduled for a different day of the week, Monday. The person in charge of the Monday market seems hellbent on proving some type of point. She is not interested in working with the neighborhood association to join forces, which would make the most sense especially since the neighborhood had trouble sustaining one market last season.

It would be great to have one thriving market day, before deciding to open two. I do hope to see Hoboken Farms in attendance at the Wednesday market. They certainly had a decent following.

My 15 Minutes?

If you haven't already done so, get yourself a copy of Palisade Magazine. What you've never heard of this fine publication? How can that be? If you live in Boise, that makes sense. But if you live along the Hudson (Jersey City, Hoboken, Edgewater etc.) copies are delivered to various businesses and the exciting news is, I had an article published in the magazine. There is even a picture of me in the contributor's section! Last year I was mentioned in one of their articles but this is far more thrilling.

The article I wrote is entitled, "Sharing the Kitchen With Kids". I forgot what my original title was but that one works fine and they didn't really edit the piece very much at all so I can't complain. Hey, it may not be Gourmet, but it's a start!

Macaroni And Cheese: Why Didn't It Please?

How did Martha lead me astray? I always look to her when I am seeking a classic version of a recipe so when the folks over at one of my favorite food websites recommended her Mac and cheese recipe as the absolute best I was itching to try it. And who better to make a large quantity of mac and cheese for but a gaggle of kids.

So I invited two families over last week for what I thought was going to be the perfect dinner. Macaroni and Cheese and Steamed Broccoli. While preparing the recipe I was struck by two incongruities: the "breadcrumbs" (which were more like Caesar salad cubes) and the 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper. The latter was my greatest concern as I knew two of my guests were not fans of all things spicy. Yet I figured that a so-called Classic Macaroni and Cheese recipe would have to be made with the child cohort in mind. I rationalized that the minuscule amount of cayenne would only add the slightest hint of spiciness. As for the bread cubes I took the, "well, this might work" attitude and hoped for the best.

I hand-grated the cheeses and worked for over an hour on the recipe, prepping the dish so that it was oven-ready. I must say, it did look spectacular. I was thrilled to be so organized and well-prepared. As the dish sat near the oven, I spooned up a quick taste, and discovered, to my horror that it was bound to be far too spicy for our guests, one of whom is known to cry when she encounters so much as a red pepper flake. I called up the mom to let her know and we devised an alternative plan if the macaroni and cheese didn't work out. My emergency package of Applegate's Best American Organic Hot dogs would have to be called into action.

I also explained the situation to the other mom and she agreed that hot dogs were the best solution. I shuddered at the thought of replacing my homemade hard work with hot dogs but at that late hour, what choice did I have.

When they guests arrived for dinner they were all ravenous. There were two 2 year olds and 3 five year olds. The two year olds actually ate the macaroni and cheese. Izzy ate some of his but his two pals grimaced in pain at the very thought of the spicy mac. One bravely took a swallow and was near tears (oh the drama). I immediately placated them with wienies (which is not my normal m.o. and when Izzy saw his friends eating wienies, he had to have one too, dashing my dreams of delighting the masses with a creamy cheesy meal.

As for the grown-ups, they seemed to like the dish well enough but for me personally it was not the ne plus ultra of macaroni and cheeses. The bread cubes provided a distracting crunch and, truth be told, the spiciness diminished the comforting aspect of the dish. Perhaps I am in the minority for only days later, I read about Martha's Mac on another highly regarded food blog, Smitten Kitchen, and was dismayed with all of the high praise it received.
So where does this leave me? Still searching for a Macaroni and Cheese recipe to rival the one at City Bakery. It may simply be a matter of reducing or eliminating the cayenne pepper and leaving out the bread cubes. Whatever it is, I won't be rushing to figure it out right away since the mood for macaroni and cheese doesn't strike that often.

Gummy Bears For SnacK? The very thought..

At least this did not happen at Izzy's school. I know I used to lament the snack situation there but lately, for the most part, I think many parents have been putting more thought and effort into the snacks they provide (even if it means substituting multi-grain goldfish for the ordinary variety which makes me chuckle but I realize they have to start somewhere).

The snacks Izzy is served sound like health food compared to what is served in one class at another Hoboken/JC private school. A recent morning snack menu featured GUMMY BEARS. Who really wants their child to eat a sticky, sugary candy, in the morning and have that coating their teeth all day? Do educated parents really consider candy a snack? If so why? Are they caving to T.V. culture and preschooler whims? Perhaps they themselves consume candy all day.

I am not 100% anti-sweets but there is a time and place for them and school snack is most definitely neither the time nor the place.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Silk-Upholstered Chairs And Five Year Olds

Let's say you had a treasured piece of furniture and you knew a five year old was coming to visit. What would you do? Cover the furniture with plastic? Warn the parents? Expect the parents to take notice of the fancy furniture and have their child sit on the floor?

As I don't have this type of furniture (we dine on chairs from Target) and our visions of a period parlour have yet to materialize) I really have no idea how one would handle this. Maybe that is why a grandma of one of Izzy's friends looks on in dismay as he tumbles over their couch. I know we aren't the only ones to allow our child to jump on the couch, although I have heard certain parents warn that it is only at Izzy's house.

As for my brother, he has never been one to live with fine furniture so even though he slowly and painstakingly restored his home it never occurred to me to tiptoe around his house. So unaccustomed was I to the newfound splendor that I barely noted the lovely silk-upholstered dining chairs or thought much about them as Izzy sat on one, while enjoying his brunch.

Now granted there were folding chairs at the table, which, in hindsight would have been a better choice. Yet I have to think now that had the fancy chairs been my chairs I would not have hesitated to suggest to the five-year old guest, to use those instead. But my brother, said nothing, mistakenly thinking that I would have been monitoring the furniture.

But alas, Izzy and I ate our meal in ignorant bliss and then Izzy ran off to meet the neighbors. They cavorted in the adjoining backyards for awhile and then when I went in search of him he was gone.

Apparently they became fast friends had already made their way up to M.'s bedroom (they have almost the same birthday!) and they were playing as if they had known each other since birth. Now M.(age 5) is the oldest of three boys, the others being 3 years and two weeks. You can imagine that their home does not have silk-upholstery either. In fact, it was a veritable sea of toys. I couldn't drag Izzy away so I suggested that M. join us to sing Happy Birthday, still blissfully ignorant of what I had signed on to do.

When we got back to Uncle E.'s house, the guests were far from ready for any singing. When I told E. that I had brought M. along, he mentioned that I'd better be extra vigilant to insure that he didn't make any more stains on the furniture.

Stains? Had Izzy done something wrong? Well it seems that Izzy had gotten something wet all over one of the chairs. Too late for me to do much about it so I simply hoped they would discover some extremely effective stain remover. When I turned to look at the chair, I noted that E.and his girlfriend had come to their senses and covered Izzy's chair with a cloth napkin.

Chairs became the least of my worries once Izzy and his friend were let loose in the living room, while impatiently awaiting the cake. Toys sailed through the air, couches became jungle gyms and I awaited the thud of a lamp or some other adored collectible.

Thankfully, M.'s dad suddenly appeared on the scene, having been dispatched by his wife to escort his child out into the yard. He explained that he and his wife were worried that some wackiness had ensued. Izzy followed him outside until the moment when it was finally time for the birthday song.

The song was sung. The cake cut. The boys consumed their cake in silence, food often serving as a magical quieting elixir, and then resumed playing outside, where they sadly parted ways. M. had to go to Home Depot and we had to go home.

Izzy is already plotting his next visit to Uncle E.'s and Great-Grandpa's so that he can see his new pal, M. I can only hope that E. keeps the silk chairs away.

Did Someone Say Happy Mother's Day?

The day began on a dismal note. Izzy and I were breakfasting when A. came downstairs. He asked Izzy if he had given me something for Mother's Day. Now where and how, I ask you, is a five year old supposed to procure a Mother's Day gift if his father didn't assist him?? Don't even get me started. At least last year, he had crafted something at school, which was truly sweet. I have to say, I was disappointed that this year there was nary a card. What's with that anyway?** I had to wonder as I saw the children from a different class leave with a potted plant on Friday.

It was a good thing that we were off to do something unrelated to Mother's Day festivities. That was the day chosen to celebrate Grandpa's 99th Birthday. Which was alright by me considering that Mother's Day does not rank high on my list of favorite holidays.

Izzy and I took the train out for the birthday celebration. En route I noted many bouquets of flowers and gift-wrapped packages, destined for some lucky mamas somewhere. Holding Izzy's hand as we navigated our travels, I was grateful to be his mama, flowers or no. Strangers smiled and wished me Happy Mother's Day. I chatted with a lone mother whose grown children were in Brazil. At least I was with my boy.

We spent most of the day with Grandpa and then made our way back to Jersey City near dinnertime. I had initially thought that Izzy would treat me to a Mother's Day dinner but we were both too tired so we just went home and had leftovers. How many more years til Izzy is old enough to bring me breakfast in bed?

Until then I will have to accept Mother's Day moments and remember that if my grandma said that "Every day is Children's Day" then every day must be Mother's Day too. Like today when Izzy swiped some flowers from the neighbors' bushes and put them in my buttonholes.

**Imagine my surprise when one of the school moms told me that her son, Izzy's classmate, had brought home an adorable Mother's Day craft for her. What happened to Izzy's?? Did he make one. He told me that there had been some confusion with his and that someone else's name had been affixed to it. He didn't know what happened to it. I emailed the school and they claim that it was sent home "in a white bag". All I noticed in that white bag was an ice pack and I tossed it in the garbage. Where has the missing creation gone?? Stay-tuned as Mother's Day is not over yet!

67 Oranges: My Brother Hosts Grandpa's 99th Birthday Brunch

Let it be known that my brother squeezed 67 oranges for the juice he served at the impeccably prepared birthday brunch that he and his Sweetie S. served to celebrate our grandfather's 99th birthday.

This was the first time (well actually second but I prepared that meal) he hosted and prepared a meal at his home for a family event. I was a bit wistful since I was looking forward to doing it myself but after Izzy's birthday it was good to have a respite from the kitchen.

When Izzy and I arrived, calm reigned overall as everything was incredibly well-organized, down to the last detail of lovely flowers on the table. In a way, this came as a surprise because for years my brother E. has lived in his neat old house with decor consisting of his childhood desk and our old kitchen table and chairs, with other manner of bachelor-style furnishings.

What I hadn't noticed was that little by little, he has been working (along with great encouragement from his lady-friend, I imagine) to transform his house into an elegantly styled show-place.

From the kitchen to the living room, everything was immaculate.
Guests arrived to a table set with artfully arranged platters of grilled vegetables, bowls of fruit,home baked breads, bagels and two kinds of quiche. There were also was also the smoked fish delivered from Zabar's, awaiting my arrival. I was immediately put in charge of the lox, whitefish and cream cheese display which was laid out in the kitchen.

All was well orchestrated and neatness was maintained, save for a bit of madness that Izzy and I introduced to the party (details to follow). After the brunch time buffet, I brought out the Strawberry Cheesecake, my one contribution to the celebration.

All in all, it all worked out for the best. Evidently the guest of honor had a swell time. He didn't even have to eat his vegetables before having dessert. In fact, he only ate the dessert.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

More Mummy, More: Classic British Tea Cake

Would you look at this gorgeous cake? And to think that every time I looked at in in Nigella Lawson's How to be a Domestic Goddess, I thought of it as a naked cake and would contemplate baking it and then turn to something else.

My friend H. made it, as the dessert portion of the second annual Teacher Appreciation Tea and it turned out to be a most fitting addition to our spread. She even made a second one for us to share after school, causing her youngest daughter, N., to cry for more, having inhaled her portion instantaneously.

It is a rather plain, comforting cake and the freshly whipped cream and raspberries dressed it up perfectly.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Not Local Enough?: Allergies Arrive With A Vengeance

So much for my milk and honey cure. All of a sudden my allergies have emerged and I am a sneezing, itching, puffy-eyed monster.

Maybe I needed to spend the $15 on the the New York City rooftop honey, instead of purchasing the less expensive raw, Amish country variety. Maybe even Andrew's honey, which I purchased at Union Square, might be a better and more local choice. I just broke open a jar of it but it may already be too late. (Andrew's is new to the Greenmarket and you can find them there on Wednesday's)

As for the milk, my results are inconclusive as well. Although it is a part of my diet, I don't drink it every day and sometimes nearly a week may go by without even a glass.

Sorry but I have been an unreliable subject in the study of using honey and raw milk to alleviate seasonal allergies. I can only hope that a more comprehensive study occurs between now and next allergy season. I hope to be a better subject next year.

Now I am stuck using Breathe Easy Tea (which definitely provides some relief) and my Neti-Pot. Any other alternative remedies out there?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Cake, Ice Cream And A Carrot: The Party Aftermath

I slaved over a hot stove, cooking up dozens of mini-meatballs. I cut vegetables and prepared sandwiches. Between cooking, washing dishes, baking and making ice cream, I spent from Thursday to Sunday, tethered to the kitchen. All in the name of Izzy's Fifth Birthday Party.

We had planters which Izzy's papa worked on for two days. We had seeds. We had dirt. The dirt was the highlight of the party. Bucketfuls landed all over the yard. Minimal planting occurred but fun was had by all. There was no formal sit down meal. The kids just grazed. My friend R. walked around, offering tidbits and sandwiches while the kids jumped, swung and rolled about. I was so engrossed in the serving and replenishing of platters, I all but ignored Izzy as he leapt about the yard.

We were only face to face as we sang Happy Birthday and but otherwise I glimpsed him from the corner of my eye as he cavorted with his friends. No doubt, he was having a ball.

At bedtime tonight, we had a recap of the day. It was then I asked him if he had eaten any of the meatballs, the special food he had requested for his birthday meal. His reply, "No. I had cake, ice cream and a carrot. That is all." A day of balanced eating, that's for sure.

Which brings me to thoughts of next year's birthday. I'm thinking just cake and ice cream. Never mind the meatballs..(though they were definitely a hit with the rest of the guests).

Three-Tiered Birthday Cake Extravaganza? Not Exactly

True. I had grand plans for a three-tiered birthday cake extravaganza. This is what emerged.. A two-tiered lopsided creation.

My friend L. decided it looked like a hat. That was a compliment. Granted it was missing the last tier, was tilted to one side and looked like something from a circus. At least there was a cake. Late last night, 1:00 a.m when I didn't have the energy to make the red velvet third tier, A. suggested that he might pick one up at a local bakery (too bad there aren't any). I rationalized that two good tiers would be better than none. So I whipped up some fillings and frostings and went off to bed.

In the morning, in my rush to complete the cake and get on with some other pressing cooking, I made some slight errors in judgement. I hoped that in spite of its odd appearance, it would be luscious. The bottom one was a Devil Dog Cake, filled with marshmallow and raspberry. The top one, called "Fluffy" Lemon Layer Cake was iced and filled with chocolate ganache. I decorated the top with some pastel buttercream.

Sounds good in theory and the Devil Dog Cake was. It was light and creamy. However when I slid the knife through the top tier, I felt its leaden weight. One taste confirmed my fears. This cake was not fit for my consumption. When cake serving time arrived, I warned the guests within earshot to choose the chocolate one. Some chose not to heed my advice, thinking I was just being modest. My friend L. sat down to eat her portion, only to return to tell me that it was like digging into a "boulder."

Izzy was pleased with the cake which is what counts most and when L.'s daughter watched me ice it and looked up at her mom to say, "Why don't you ever make homemade cakes for me?" I decided that there must have been something appealing about the whole messy affair.

Friday, May 2, 2008

From Greasy Chinese To A Packed Restaurant: D.J. Garden morphs into Grand Sichuan

On our way to Vietnamese, A. reminded me that there was a new Chinese on the block. His old favorite, D.J. Garden finally bit the dust. Sorry he was saddened by their demise but I say "Good riddance." Welcome to Grand Sichuan, a Chinese restaurant with outposts all over New York City, one in our old neighborhood.

Our favorite dish, "The Green Parrot" is on the menu in Jersey City as spinach with ginger. The dish is served as long bunches of narrow Chinese spinach. I feared Izzy would gag as he slurped down one bunch all at once it was so tasty. A. tried an odd pairing of bitter melon, green peppers and black beans. Bitter it was. Better was his Spicy Tofu and our Wonton soup.

Not stellar but a notch above the rest in the Chinese restaurant realm. They still serve the standard D.J. Garden favorites for those accustomed to American-Chinese fare.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Party Production: Mini-Meatball Factory

I am just finishing up my last batch of mini-meatballs for Izzy's birthday. I have made over 100..half of them grass-fed beef, the other turkey. And that is only the beginning of the menu I have concocted.

Hmmm.. Maybe Izzy's idea of a simple menu of meatballs and cake is all we really need. Only thing is, that would mean more meatballs. Which I don't think I can handle after an evening of rolling and frying and a greasy kitchen. Not to mention that for all my valiant efforts, Izzy has already expressed his profound disappointment because I failed to honor his original request which included lamb and venison meatballs. Those will have to wait until his 10th birthday, when he can roll half of them himself.

On to the clean-up and tomorrow's plans..ice cream and cake!