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

Tales of Empty Nesting ...The Next Chapter

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Pound Cake? No. Pound Cat.

The day before Christmas Eve, I was scurrying around finishing up some elfish duties while my husband and child were charged with purchasing a Christmas tree. The entire afternoon, I attempted to contact them, begging them to shop for some much needed Christmas dinner ingredients. My texts and calls went unanswered and I fumed all the way home. Not only was I a Jewish girl fulfilling Christmas duty, but no help was coming from the Christmas side.

Upon my arrival, nearly four hours after I had left, I found an unadorned tree and Izzy and his papa acting peculiarly. I asked them where they had been and when they replied, "The Liberty Science Center", I became even more peeved. Then I asked if they had fed Mama cat and they said no. When I began to make my way upstairs to feed her Izzy couldn't contain himself. "You are going to find a surprise up there. There is a new Ca...Ca....Ca...CAT!"

"What??? You must be joking." I shrieked incredulously. I immediately ran upstairs, opened the bathroom door and found a large grey tabby cat cowering in the corner. What on earth was A. thinking?? I really didn't want another cat. Mama is enough trouble as it is. But no, instead of holiday preparations, my husband and child were out conducting cat interviews at the Liberty Humane Shelter.

A. somehow decided that Izzy and I both needed a cat that we could pet and play with. He has the notion that our new and friendly, "pound cat" or as he likes to call him, "cat pound", will have a positive influence on Mama. He explained that we could test drive the cat and return him if he and Mama didn't get along.

So far they have. It may even be that Mr. Pound Cat might is Mama's Romeo. They meow and frolic, and lounge in the same room. Mama watches with great interest as we pet and scratch her playmate. She has even ventured downstairs in search of him and today even made her way into the kitchen. Mr. Pound Cat has become quite a compelling player in our cat dramas.

Both family and friends are charmed by his tigerish face and amiable demeanor. Izzy and his pals relentlessly chase him and he willingly obliges. Who knows? Perhaps A. was onto something. Despite my initial resistance, a new cat might be just the thing our household needs.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Olive Story

Olives. The next time you eat one, don't take it for granted. Pop it into your mouth; slide your tongue over its slippery roundness, savor its saltiness and chew it up. A perfect little hors'd'oeuvre. Easy to eat many. Except if you are 99 and have no teeth. A small fact that I sometimes forget when I am bringing snacks for grandpa.

He has always been an olive lover. My grandmother used to buy the green ones stuffed with red pimento and there was always at least one jar in her fridge. When I started to prepare holiday meals, I always had a variety of great olives on hand and grandpa would always scarf down several before his meal.

So on Christmas Eve, when I was bringing the meal to his house, I brought along some olives. I gave him one as I was heating up the dinner. He certainly seemed pleased to have it but as I watched him continue to chew on for over 20 minutes, I couldn't contain myself. I had to say something.

Me: Grandpa, are you still chewing on that olive? It's time for dinner...

Grandpa: Yes. It's good. Like chewing gum.

Me (wondering to myself when he would finish so we could start dinner).

The fate of that olive remains unknown, whether he eventually swallowed it or spit it out. Either way, it seemed to be an enjoyable experience.

Olive flavored chewing gum...is there a market for that?

Friday, December 26, 2008

A Very Jewish Christmas Eve

Growing up Jewish meant going to a Chinese restaurant on Christmas. Or was that on Christmas Eve? Not quite sure but it is certainly a tradition I embrace and it was sorely missed this year, especially on Christmas Day while I was home cleaning and chewing on "donkey butt".

Our Christmas Eve as far more successful. We spent it savoring "my people's food" with my grandpa. Not sure how much that thrilled A. but he was definitely a good sport about it, even providing juggling entertainment.

A., Izzy and I showed up at my grandfather's apartment bearing dishes much like those my grandma used to prepare. Mushroom and Barley soup, Noodle Kugel and some homemade raspberry creams.

Grandpa was only able to eat one dish for his dinner, as his appetite has grown smaller with age. That one dish was the Kugel and he liked it so much he practically licked his dish clean. Izzy is a huge fan of Kugel too so it was nice to see them sharing in the Kugel joy.

Although I didn't get my Chinese food fix, eating Kugel with Grandpa was a fine way to spend Christmas Eve.

p.s. I wonder if Grandpa used to eat Chinese on Christmas? From what I understand the tradition does go way back...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Bloody Holidays (Literally and Figuratively): or..What A Miserable Life

They do bring out the best in everyone. Just check out the comments I received on this post. I don't have the wherewith all to respond right now but maybe someone else will. And now to my story...

From mopping up dripping animal blood from my freezer to the buffalo roast I served for dinner, this Christmas day couldn't have gotten much worse.. and then it did. Any holiday cheer I may have had (and there wasn't much to start with) has been wiped away with the blood-soaked paper towels and buried with all of the food I tossed out when our fridge decided to go on the fritz.

After a lovely evening of wrapping gifts for Izzy to put under our tree, I awakened this morning to discover that our fridge/freezer was completely malfunctioning. Some areas were warm whereas others were frozen. Goat and buffalo juices were dripping everywhere. The sight was enough to turn even the staunchest of carnivores into a vegetarian. The mess was of such grand proportions that after the gift unwrapping, I was destined to a morning of freezer cleaning. We had no breakfast as I attempted to remove all bloody traces.

When I finally got around to preparing breakfast (while Izzy and his Papa played), I served scrambled eggs, breakfast sausage and toast. The sausage was from a mystery package that had defrosted and had to be used. It was one of many I had picked up at the greenmarket and I know not from which animal it came. It was most definitely not the tastiest of sausages. A. called it "possum sausage" and even Mama cat refused to try it. Indeed it had a funky flavor but at least breakfast (brunch) had be served.

After brunch, the matter of the fridge still plagued us. A. became intent upon fixing it himself and I had to remove everything and find a home for it, either out in the yard or in our vestibule which remains fairly cold. Somehow the entire afternoon disappeared and by the time it was determined that repairs were not going to happen, it was time to prepare dinner. I marinated a buffalo eye of round roast, part of the same share as my chopped buffalo which made for a fantastic meatloaf. I planned to serve it with mashed potatoes, broccoli and an arugula/mache salad.

All seemed set but the roast seemed to require additional roasting time, far beyond the suggested hour. By 7:30, I allowed Izzy to have a roast-less meal. We sat with him as we waited for the roast to reach the suggested internal temperature of 130 degrees. When it finally did, I immediately began to carve it, only to discover that it was unhappily overdone. Izzy had the first slice and kept chewing and chewing. Buffalo is an extremely lean meat and apparently should only be served on the rare side.

A. decided that it wasn't really buffalo meat at all and that I had been hoodwinked into purchasing a donkey butt. If nothing else it was good for a laugh. Soon it would be just a bad memory.

With dinner over, I was faced with yet another kitchen mess. I put Izzy into bed and came down to get to work when all of a sudden he started moaning from bed. He began crying intermittently, at times inconsolably and is now running a fever. A. got into bed with him to keep him company.

While I sit here and worry, I am certainly looking forward to better days and better dinners ahead. And a repaired refrigerator. Merry day after Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lunching With Rapscallions On A Cold Winter's Day

Izzy and his friend T., tagged along with us (their moms) to Pilates this morning. As they whizzed about the studio, making mischief of one kind or another, C., our instructor referred to them as monkeys, then elves. Upon hearing the word elves, T. said, "No, monkeys" and Izzy said, no "Rapscallions." Fitting enough, I might add. And as the day wore on, even more so.

As it was too cold to even think of strolling about in the pre-Christmas rush of NYC, we ended up at Baumgart's, in Edgewater, for a rather late lunch. Baumgart's in Edgewater, though not as wonderful as the original in Englewood, is still a fine place to dine with kids (or grown-ups). In fact we bumped into two teachers from Izzy's school, enjoying their first day of winter break.

Izzy and T. were giddy with delight as they frolicked in the booth. They both attacked a large platter of edamame and were then served warm sesame noodles, soft, thick and nutty. T. ignored hers for fries and ketchup while Izzy twirled his and commented upon how he first tried them with Papa.

S. and I were just happy to be sitting across from two happy, non-complaining children (oops I mean rapscallions), our accomplishment for the day.

Friday, December 19, 2008

What Is A Gourmand? (In case you were curious...)

A long while back, a friend inquired as to what I had in mind by the word "gourmand". True the initial usage of the term referred to an individual who pursued culinary pleasures to excess, more akin to a glutton than a gourmet. Not quite what I had in mind.

Instead, the current Wikipedia definition best describes my image of a gourmand : " A person who takes great pleasure in food." And, knock on wood (my superstitious side comes out), so far Izzy does just that.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Homemade Organic Peppermint Patties: Get The Sensation!

I saw this recipe on one of my favorite food websites, The Kitchn and I knew it would make for an ideal holiday gift. The ingredient list was short and aside from peppermint oil, I had all of the ingredients* in my pantry.

Izzy and I prepared them this afternoon and had nearly instant candy gratification. These were even better than the ones we buy from Birnn Chocolates! The chocolate dipping can get a bit messy with a little helper but that was all part of the fun.

*All of the ingredients should be available in the organic section of your supermarket or at Whole Foods.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Hanukkah Preview: Latkes With A Shot Of Applesauce

How's that for a new use for shot glasses? You can even buy a bunch of vintage ones on the cheap to use at your next Hanukkah party.

Recipes for latkes to follow and the applesauce is here. Be sure to use a variety of apples for a distinctive flavor..(Empire, Winesap, Jonagold are just some of the ones I used).

Monday, December 15, 2008

Eating Great-Grandpa Style: The Edison Diner

Izzy's great-grandpa does not get out much, save for a weekly visit to his favorite restaurant, The Edison Diner. I have been able to avoid going there as he usually makes a weekly visit there with a kind friend who visits him nearly every Tuesday. When we visit, I usually bring something for us to eat with him at home.

This past visit, our usual routine was interrupted. My brother G. and my nephew D., visited at the same time so they decided Grandpa would like a trip to the diner. It was an outing. One I would sooner forget.

Once seated in our cramped booth (Grandpa insisted), I shuddered at the thought of what Izzy might eat there and searched for the least offensive choices on the menu. I offered him the choice of a veggie burger or grilled cheese sandwich. He chose the burger (as did his uncle) so I had the sandwich. Grandpa ordered Matzoh-Ball soup and fries. White food. What picky children like...

My nephew D., now 12, ordered several dishes from the menu, a burger, an egg sandwich and a Belgian waffle. I watched in amazement as he consumed everything in sight.

Everyone seemed thrilled with their choices (especially Izzy who was starving since it was nearly three p.m before lunch was served). He probably would have eaten whatever was put in front of him but it still pained me to watch him grab at my grandpa's greasy fries and take pleasure in that awful food.

As I sat, begrudgingly eating my grilled cheese, I thought about the countless people who flock to diners and why... I also wondered what Alice Waters would have done if her grandfather insisted on eating at a diner. "Bring your own olive oil" would have been of no use there...

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Chicken Finger (Trouble With Cat)

I thought I was adapting nicely to having a wild creature in my house, until the other night, when Mama cat mistook my finger for a piece of chicken. In her defense, both are white, and I was holding out the morsel of chicken between my fingers. There I was thinking about how fond Mama was of chicken and how she was coming around so nicely, even allowing me to stroke under her chin as she nibbled. Perhaps I should reconsider my feeding methods to avoid any confusion and to avoid the pain.. Do you have any idea how sharp a cat's teeth are?

All was forgiven until the next day, when I received the following text from A., "Your cursed cat attacked my foot. And not in a nice way. If she does that to Izzy she is out." Apparently she thought A.'s foot was a rat. Or so he surmised. Personally I think she was defending her territory. A. had no business pacing around her safe spot.

The following night, I tempted her again with some chicken. Once again I stupidly held out a morsel, and yet again, she grabbed my finger. I think I have finally learned my lesson. The only way to feed her is out of the palm of my hand. No more chicken finger for her!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Green Split Pea Soup: Not Exactly Like Grandma's

I grew up with my grandma's green split pea soup. It was a muddied green affair topped with sliced hot dogs. A. grew up with bits of ham in his soup.
Though I am still tempted to add some meaty tidbits to this soup, I have found a way to make this soup flavorful without meat, caramelized onions. The onions with olive oil somehow turn this into a rib sticking meal. And it need not simmer for hours either, making it entirely possible to prepare on a weeknight.

Green Split Pea Soup (Vegetarian)

2 cups organic green split peas
7 cups water (add more if needed)
1 bay leaf
1 3/4 teaspoons salt, or to taste
tablespoon chopped fresh thyme (optional)

4-6 carrots, sliced or chopped
2 leeks, whites with bit of green, chopped
4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
4 cloves of garlic, smashed
2 cups onion, chopped

1. Add peas, bay leaf and salt to large stockpot, cover with water and simmer 20 minutes.
2. Add carrots, leeks, celery, and garlic. Simmer 40 minutes more.
3. While soup is simmering, saute onion in olive oil and add to soup at end.

4-6 generous servings.

Served with bread, cheese and a salad = Dinner!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Green Expectations (or The Many Shades Of Green)

"Green" conjures up images of many things. From the choices we make in the way we live, to the vibrant colors of the many wonderful vegetables we eat. Today green was all of those things and then some. It was also a green I'd rather forget: Namely, green gobs of frosting on cookies that Izzy was eating. Of course I prefer to think of the former but can't get my mind off the latter. In some way, they are intertwined.

In small ways we try to raise Izzy "green" given the environment in which we live. This means doing things like hanging our laundry on the line (weather permitting), living without a/c most of the summer and walking or taking public transportation whenever possible. Every little bit helps. Izzy helps recycle and it certainly helps that his school encourages that as well. Izzy's "sculpture" creations, made from discarded food packaging (what packaging is recycled is another story, don't even ask what ingredients are listed in the package below) are just one way he is learning to be "green".

We also try to guide him towards selecting earth-friendly toys (apparently not a guarantee of anything) and he is fortunate to have many handmade ones like the ferry above, made by his Grandpa T.

Most importantly, if you read this blog you know, being "green" greatly influences how we shop and eat. Our major efforts towards being "green" are certainly concentrated in the food realm. We try to eat local, organic foods whenever possible. It is my wish to instill in Izzy, a lifelong love and respect for healthy, delicious foods. This afternoon, I prepared an organic green-split pea soup, made with local or organic vegetables. It may not have been the most beautiful pale shade of green, but topped with sauteed leeks (more green), it was warming and nutritious on a cold, rainy night.

In the late afternoon, while the pea soup simmered on the stove, I took Izzy to join his classmates for a small holiday celebration. The children were offered cookies with gobs of green frosting and small green Christmas trees. Not wishing to be a Grinch, I allowed him to indulge, knowing full well what the aftermath might be.

I tried to be festive but couldn't help but be disturbed. Why were they being fed food dye and why the color green?

Food dyes have been consistently shown to cause hyperactivity in children. Current research continues to confirm this. It is truly best to steer clear of them if at all possible. There are organic dyes available and certainly other ways to be festive.

Secondly, why the choice of color. Is green the seasonal color? Not if you celebrate Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or Diwali. Not that another color would have been healthier but how about equal opportunity dyes?

As I mulled over these thoughts, it came as no surprise when Izzy and his friends turned from chattering children to rolling, romping creatures, piling up on one another, causing the parents and teachers to reign in their behavior, caused in part, by the foods they were served.

I was more than happy to take Izzy home for his dinner. Hopefully the green split pea soup would be both nourishing and calming.

I continue to ponder how challenging it is to be "green" here in lovely, toxic, Jersey City. It is especially difficult when not everyone shares the same mindset. Learning to eat better is one way to counteract the negative effects of our environment, as we live in the shadow of the Holland Tunnel. We all do not have the opportunity to raise our children on a farm, as this amazing woman does but we do have a chance to teach our children about good greens and bad.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Mama Cat: Four Week Anniversary

Today we celebrated have Mama cat in our house for four weeks (well I am noting it here, no actual celebration was made). She marked the occasion by finding a true hiding place. I actually thought she had escaped. When I went to her usual spot, she wasn't there. I combed all of the rooms where she could possibly be and there was no sign. Under beds, in closets, nothing. I can't imagine where she went but 10 minutes later she miraculously reappeared in her usual spot.

My latest triumph is having her eat out of my hand while I attempt to scratch her chin. She sits on the steps and I stand below, sticking my hand through the staircase spindles.

And still the naysayers haunt me. "Let her go. She would be happier outdoors." "You won't be able to tame her unless you confine her to one room." Since there are so many schools of cat thought, I look towards the positive voices. "Don't let anyone tell you otherwise. She is better off inside. It is a rough life outside in Jersey City."

I would have to agree. Others have taken in ferals and seen them turn into lap cats. It may take two years, as was the case for S., who took in a pregnant feral and kept her, along with two kittens. Whatever the case may be, I still hold out hope for Mama.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Need He Say More? Need I?

It was getting close to dinnertime and I had nothing on the burner. Izzy announced how hungry he was, probably noting that nothing was ready to eat. Since I hadn't planned ahead, I mentioned some quick dinner possibilites. He looked up and said:

"Whatever you make I will eat."

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Ox Outing: It's Aging Well

You have heard me rave about Ox before and I am back to say that it is better than ever. I convinced my dad to go there despite his problem with their previous bread issues (which have in fact returned), but I tried to overlook that teensy drawback and focus on the wonderful.

More sliders to drool over (not venison but still fabulous), deviled eggs and butternut squash arrancini (rice balls) also called us. These bar bites got raves all around, as perfectly- sized deliciousness.

Everything on their seasonal menu was appealing but I settled on their signature oxtail appetizer, which was even better than I remember. A square of polenta was piled even higher with shredded, meltingly tender oxtail. Next was their chicken and waffles, a lovely riff on a southern standard. It was prepared with a whole roasted poussin served atop a waffle with bacon and pecans. You can bet Izzy was opening like a guppy for tastes of everything, as he enjoyed his half portion of sweet pea risotto. Yes. Ox now boasts half portions which makes it even more enticing than ever.

My dad and stepmother enjoyed their fish special but were unable to finish. We ordered so much that I ended up with a whole portion to take home. The only downside was the noise factor. We could hardly hear ourselves speak as it was still happy hour, well after seven.

Izzy's final word: "Everything on our table was yummy." Indeed it was.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Coffee Lessons From Aunt A.

I love the smell of coffee but I don't drink it and I don't make it at home. So when his Aunt A. set out to prepare some, I was thrilled when Izzy was invited to help. Little did I know that Aunt A. herself was pretty much a coffee novice and only recently has come to learn a thing or two about it.
She could hardly avoid it, given that her girlfriend is the proprietor of the popular Pittsburgh cafe, Enrico's Tazza D'Oro, which sells some of the finest coffee in the country.

Izzy patiently awaits his turn to press the coffee grounds.

Izzy was eager to do his job but waited until Auntie A. gave him the go ahead. He slowly pressed when the time came.

Even though I don't usually drink coffee, I had to try some of this. After all, Aunt A. said that this blend was very special, and I would say so at something like $50 a pound. At those prices I guess it pays to know someone in the business!

I liked the coffee well enough though Aunt A.deemed it weak. I'd say it was strong enough for me since it kept me awake that night. Good thing Izzy didn't try any!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Cat Calls: Three Weeks With Mama Cat

Today marks three weeks since we captured Mama cat. She seems to be fully litter trained, which is a major success. She spends most of the daytime hiding out on the top floor of our house, either on a bed, or under it. She makes forays down one flight for food and to check out commotions.

Evenings are different. Nearly every night, at Izzy's bedtime, she perches on a back windowsill and meows. Each meow has a different sound. M-ow-boo, Meow-oo or just plain M-ow. Until she moved in with us, we never heard a peep out of her but now it is almost as if she is trying to tell us something.

Last night her meows were so loud and plaintive, as she peered down at her old love, the large gray and white tomcat, father of her first litter. All sorts of meowing ensued as other neighborhood cats wandered in and out of our yard. Maybe the warm weather brought them out. I was sad for Mama but have to remember that she is safer inside.

Here with us, she gets bowls of leftover turkey chunks (a real hit), smoked trout and other choice niblets. I do hope that the way to cat's heart is her stomach.. for one day we hope to be able to actually pet her. If she plays her cards right, I may just prepare some homemade cat food!

Monday, December 1, 2008

P is For Picking At Pomegranates, A Perfect Playdate Pastime

Pomegranate seeds, yogurt and honey. Perfect after school snack. Wildly entertaining too.

Today Izzy and his friend I. snacked on the above. After they licked their bowls clean, I gave them the remaining pomegranates to pick at with chopsticks. Soon their faces and fingers were red-stained and happy. Poking at pomegranates turned out to be a most pleasurable pastime.