LETTER TO MICHAEL
While I was busy getting my barn ready for Jay’s Junk’s visit, I came across three old cookbooks. For a while I was sort of collecting old cookbooks because they have so much history and reflections of certain eras, (hence the need for a business like Jay’s Junk because along with cookbook collecting comes vintage kitchenware, turquoise canister sets, and an endless collection of many other collections, but more on this in another writing). One was called The Whitehouse Cookbook written by former Whitehouse chef, “Francois Rysavy as told to Frances Spatz Leighton,” head chef before Jimmy Carter. Not only does it have the recipes prepared for presidential and state dinners, but also some of the recipes from the actual Presidents and their wives. This book is a gem because it really demonstrates the different formalities of these times pre-Pinterest, pre-Tweeting and pre-Ipad. It has collections of meals like, Thomas Jefferson Birthday Dinner on the 228th Anniverary of His Birth and is listed under Chapter 8, named Jefferson, the First Whitehouse Gourmet.
The other delight was The Tollhouse Cookbook, by Ruth Wakefield the actual owner of The Tollhouse Inn. I never knew, or questioned for that matter, where the phrase Toll House came from when it came to the endless batches of cookies my grandmother made (and froze) or the Toll House chocolate chip pie I whip up for many hungry adoring fans, (you know who you are). It turns out the actual Toll House Inn was in Massachusetts and the Toll House cookie was created there too.
The third cookbook I came across was a cookbook written in 1959 by Mildred O. Knopf (sister in law of the famous publisher, Alfred, sometimes proving it’s not what you know, but who- just sayin’) named Cook, My Darling Daughter. The premise of this cookbook was from a mother who loved her daughter, Wendy, so much that she wanted to write a cookbook that was “Not a book about ‘how to boil water,’ but a book for young women who want to learn how to love to cook.” Brilliant. Each section preceding has a letter to her daughter on the thought process for the upcoming section. It is lovely and it makes me connect with all of the food that has been cooked for me over the years. Food is surely a connector.
What got me thinking was the intent of two of these cookbooks, both including personal dedications to the daughters they loved and I started thinking about what kinds of inspiring and thoughtful memories similar to this I could leave my son. Actually I first thought how sad that I don’t have my mother to write this for me, but because of all of my therapy and work I have done, immediately replaced these potentially sour thoughts with how I could translate this into a memory for my own son.
When he was first born I wrote in a journal every day until he was about three. I was really disciplined in doing this and when I pull out the writings I laugh at how excited I was by a five hour night sleep or a simple expression he made for the first time. On each birthday, I wrote him a letter probably until he was eight or nine sealing each of them to give to him later. Not sure when. College graduation, first job, first home, marriage, first born child? Who knows, when the time is right, I will know. This I know. I came across them the other day when I was getting ready for my soon to be new best friends, Jay’s Junk and contemplated opening them. I have absolutely no idea what they say and I am guessing that was the point. This must be why I sealed them and they are not addressed to me so I have released the need to open them. I wish I had put them in one unique place, but I didn’t, I know where at least these five of them are and as I move through cleanup phase, I will create a Michael spot so I (or he) can access easily when that time is right.
I love the idea of a cookbook, but with the added twists and turns of life intertwined from the stories I include with the recipes.
These cookbooks were a sign of the times- recipes directed at “busy housewives” to make their busy day with their children easier and so they could also be fresh and ready for ‘their man’s return from his busy day at the office.’ I like the idea of knowing that Dave and I raised a young man who can fend for himself in the kitchen and that Michael knows that when two people are raising a child, it takes both to participate in the meal preparation. We taught him unintentionally by our example a love of food, of love of kitchen, good knives, good pans and some kick ass meals. Dave tends to cook big and thick, mac and cheese with bacon and sausage or his mother’s stuffing loaded with Portuguese bread, sausage and chourico, a spicy Portuguese sausage because one type is just not enough. Dave taught Michael a love of BIG ASS burgers and trying new recipes. I taught Michael to buy really good meat at Persimmon Provisions or Venda Ravioli, and to drive endlessly for great food to specialty stores like my grandmother taught my mother and my mother taught me. Dave taught Michael daily shopping for the meal to be cooked that evening. He learned from me simple healthy cooking, homemade salad dressing with just oil, lemon, garlic, Bolognese sauce with really good crushed tomatoes and the best pasta. I love the mix of these unintended lessons, it is just who we are as parents and when we were married as a couple and as we moved on through a divorce how we live in our lives when Michael is with each of us.
It was really important to me that Michael travel and see the world so he experienced Madrid, Menorca, Tel Aviv, London and seeing some of our own beautiful country. Food was always a part of the great experiment called child rearing and his love of ethnic food comes from his exposure to the other parts of the world. Besides healthy eating in both of our Whitehouses, he has learned a love of homemade baked treats, cheesecake from our friend, Morgan, themed sugar cookies from our friend, Karen, and of course the slew of chocolate chip things I have been making since he was born. Sugar is bad for sure, but when sugar represents love and family, how can it be all that bad?
When I think in terms of writing a cookbook for him, I can’t help but think of the mishmash of theme. In one moment we are eating beautiful salmon baked with only a dollop of coconut oil, salt and pepper and fresh arugula salad and in the next meal eating buffalo chicken lasagna loaded with blue cheese, cheddar cheese, mozzarella and ricotta. Dave could be making a prime rib with mashed potatoes one night and the next night serving extra large cheese burgers on white bread buns and tator tots. My old neighbors, Karen and Bob may be making a big vat of American Chop Suey, circa 1960’s and sharing it with our tribe. No shortage of delicious food coming at him and he has a delightful and very opened appreciation of great food. So as I contemplate a compilation of recipes that tell a story of his young life, there are so many I would have to include not only from Dave and me, but from grandparents and extended family as well as friends who have stepped in for the family we don’t have here around us. With all of the endless discussions about nutrition and clean eating, all my own personal self talk about my constant worry of indulging in some old tried and true recipes that are dairy or sugar or chocolate (or all three) and the endless worry I have about my son’s non organic raised beef consumption or lack of regular fruit and vegetable intake, what I do know is that good food cooked for someone you love with love is love. Love is healing. So even if intake is not always the best, I know that the intention of the food and how it lands in your lap (or in your stomach) can be a miraculous cure all. Just look at the well known healing properties of old fashioned Jewish Chicken Soup, my first entry into this LETTER TO MICHAEL. I am imagining this project will be quite a long process as I add this to my ever growing list of things I want to accomplish. Here is my start- a test run.
As my first entry into this book I write for you, I have to begin with Chicken Soup as number one. The warm garlicky broth base has been the go to soup since you could eat real food. Its intense healing power has cured colds, flus, coughs, cold nights and been part of our tribe and our extended family for over twenty years. This soup as been a proud member of our family menus for every Jewish Holiday we have celebrated in both small company and large gatherings of over forty for Passover, Hanukkah and Roshashannah. The recipe actually started from one I found in a Bon Appetit Magazine called Garlic Soup. As a young and enthusiastic wife, I used to get cooking magazines well before cooking shows had their own network let alone existed. Ruth Reichl was the editor of Gourmet and I would hungrily read each of her entries from her travels and forge ahead with the recipes filled with butter and cream and unusual ingredients. “Back then” we mothers and fathers, if they were interested, (yours were) read cookbooks and magazines teaching ourselves in the kitchen. This recipe transformed into the soup you know and love and is one of my favorite meals to cook for you as soon as the weather gets that first New England chill. I hope this recipe becomes your go to meal for your future family. I am imagining that with both Dad and my influence, you will add and tweak it to make it your own in your next twenty years as you head off onto your own yellow brick road.
MOM’S (AKA ALAYNE’S) JEWISH CHICKEN SOUP
GOOD OLIVE OIL
15–20 CLOVES OF GARLIC
4–6 ORGANIC CARROTS
3–4 ORGANIC CELERY STALKS
1 MEDIUM ONION
1 LARGE ROASTED ORGANIC CHICKEN (PRECOOKED IS THE EASIEST)
SALT, PEPPER, BAY LEAF
CHICKEN STOCK OR BROTH (2 BOXES OR MORE)
FRESH SPINACH LEAVES
MATZO BALL MIX
HOW TO TURN THE INGREDIENTS INTO MAGIC
Heat ¼ cup of good olive oil or coconut oil in a pan that makes you happy to cook in
IN A CUISINART, mix the following:
Garlic, carrots, celery stalks, onion
MINCE WELL and add to the heated oil above.
Add a lot of fresh salt and pepper and a bay leaf- (more salt than you probably think)
Saute until fragrant and soft about 7–8 minutes- do not brown.
While this is cooking take the Cuisinart bowl and add cooked chicken pieces- chop till chunky.
(I buy a whole cooked organic chicken at Whole Foods because it is easy, but if you want to go purist- then buy a whole chicken and cook it ahead of time, keep the broth for future use.)
Add chopped chicken to this and mix well until heated, about 6–7 minutes
Add 2 boxes of organic chicken stock or broth
Add about 3 Tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley
Bring to a boil (if you are adding rice- add about ¼ cup here) and then turn down and simmer for as long as a few hours. You will probably need more salt and pepper- I used to add three bouillon cubes back in the day until I found out they were loaded with MSG so I stopped (but it does add a rocking flavor)
If you want to add them (and you will because this is the secret to this soup and this is what made you love it when you were little) go to the Jewish section of the grocery store and buy the box that says Matzo Balls and follow the directions. The secret to them being fluffy is to drop them in the boiling water and cover the pan with the lid while they cook. When they float to the top, they are ready. Add them to the soup anytime. They won’t get mushy.
10 MINUTES BEFORE SERVING THE SOUP- Add a few handfuls of spinach leaves, a squeeze of lemon and a splash of Cayenne Pepper, this is especially important if you are making the soup because you or someone is sick. It seriously seals the deal. Cover until spinach is just wilted and serve with the joy you know it will be bringing shortly.