Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Picky Eaters

Since I devoted my last blog to how much we as a family enjoy the whole restaurant experience and you all know now that I like to cook and am pretty successful at it I thought it was time to clear up the whole misconception that may be out there that I somehow am raising adventurous eaters. 

Before the age of 3 I had a lot of trouble with my tonsils.  This being Romania in the late 60s there was a shortage of oral antibiotics and most of my bouts were treated with antibiotic shots.  The nurse would come to our house and I would hide, the needle was thick and reused (do not happened until the end of the Ceausecu regime and led to a host of deadly infections later in the years) and often dull. It was painful and sitting afterward was difficult.  Now as you are reading this you may think I have wandered from the original topic but I have not, just taking a scenic route to the original subject.  This led to my eating very little, mostly mashed potatoes with a boiled egg mashed in them (still a comfort food I love). This also led to my parents not forcing me to eat anything that I did not want to.  This was no small feat in a country plagued by food lines.  Once in the States I usually ate what my Mother had cooked for the family and the rule was I had to try everything, not make a face (this was met with punishment) and not complain.  My Mother, a full time working Mom, was a master of making meals during Sunday that would last us through the week and she often made things for me on the days I may not want to have the same thing they were eating. I still cannot stand those hairy, slimy vegetables, took me years to learn the English name, like okra and do not like peas (a staple in our house in a stew) or quince (cooked with meat...raw fruit not bad).  I did eat and still do, much like many non-US born folks, organ meats.  The aversion seems to be very big to these in the US and I assume it is because when meat is cheap and plentiful you do not learn to eat the whole animal for economic reasons.  

So it is no surprise to me that my sons are picky eaters.  I often make dinners for them that differ from ours.  Their repertoire is limited to organic Bell and Evans chicken nuggets (they do not like the pre-made kind and these you have to cook), hot dogs, pizza (home made with me or bagel type), pasta of any kind with butter and cheese, and fish sticks.  We rotate these a lot during the week.  Yet they are gastronomic picky eaters as they prefer fresh pasta to dry, they only like good Parmesan cheese and preferably fresh grated, Manchego cheese, pesto sauce (home made), peanut butter with Nutella sandwiches and fresh bakery breads with good butter.  They also will eat the same thing as us when we really feel they are not giving the meal a chance since we are pretty sure they will like it (we have a good track record of being told the stuff is "not as bad as I thought" with this one).  I know many people are appalled that I give them choices at night and that I do not force them to eat whatever we do.  Part of this is because as a working Mom who is tired it is easier to give in than to fight me I have tried both.  Part of it is that they really do not eat unhealthy meals and are in good shape according to their pediatricians.   Mostly it is because in my own childhood I ventured very little and yet as an adult am by far one of the more adventurous foodies I know.  If they do not expand their palates it will be a shame as I think they will miss out on a host of diverse delicacies.  I also prefer to make food something they enjoy as well making the time when we share meals one where there is boundless conversation even when their menu is limited. 

Don't want to argue, I don't want to debate
Don't want to hear about what kind of food you hate
You won't get no dessert 'till you clean off your plate
So eat it!
—"Eat It" by Weird Al -- NAHHHH not in our house

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Food Porn..

Food is our common ground, a universal experience. JAMES BEARD
In chatting during my commute a few days ago about our latest restaurant find in the Hudson Valley I was surprised to get the response from the woman I was speaking with that she felt going out to eat was not a worthwhile expense "there are better things I would spend my money on".   I tried to wrap my head around this idea but honestly don't get it.  It is not that I am daft but rather that to me going to a restaurant and finding one that has really good and interesting creations is such a source of pleasure.  The woman I was speaking with (as I pointed out to her and to which she reluctantly agreed) is not a foodie.  I on the other hand am one of those people who can relate to the term food porn.

As a child we rarely went out to restaurants and I was not an adventurous eater.  I started experimenting with different cuisines in college.  This was the 80s, spending and over the top extravagance was the norm, tall food was created (at Gotham Bar and Grill which after all these year is still among my favorites) so finding restaurants that had good food at our budgets was a challenge.  Thank goodness for the Village and it's small and tasty restaurants.  In watching the Food Network (a channel that at first did not have these annoying game show type competitions but actually either had cooking or interesting facts about cooking) I learned that the evolution of quality cuisine in the US pretty much developed around this time.  I also was fortunate to work for an amazing doctor during college and while getting my masters.  He and his wife were the first real foodies I got to know and through their generosity I discovered haute cuisine.  I have been hooked since then. As my friends and I got older going out drinking/dancing was replaced by going out dining. I look forward to the ambiance of a very fancy restaurant just as much as I love the cozy comfort of a more casual one.  I get a kick out of  looking at a menu and seeing combinations that I may not have thought of or those cuisines of nations that are so different than what I grew up with.  Having a beautifully arranged concoction set down before me, the anticipation of that first taste, the smell of the herbs wafting to me....oh, oh, wonder Meg Ryan chose to have her "yes, yes, yes, ooooooh" moment in a restaurant with Billy Crystal in "When Harry Met Sally". 

Sharing a meal with a date was a great way for me to measure the potential success of a relationship.  I know it seems shallow but over that meal either we found common ground or walked away a little fuller in the stomach and little emptier in the heart.  It could be that as someone who loves to paint and write the artistic, creative aspect of restaurant meals is a large part of the turn on.  As I write this I am thinking of my more memorable meals throughout my travels, dinner at the Eiffel Tower restaurant, seafood in the south of Spain, discovering sushi, German schnitzel in a beer garden in Munich, and Italy (yeah pretty much not a bad meal fancy or casual there).  I also embrace the movement of small chef owned restaurants that I also loved when we used to go to Brooklyn B.C.(before children) and now are finding all over the Hudson Valley.  These places are for foodies and they are also dedicated to in season, organic, locally grown produce that gives me a good feeling about not destroying the planet for my sons while indulging.  My sons have the bug for going out to eat though they are not going to stray from some usual fare (pasta with butter but with good Parmesan) which all of these places seem to accommodate.    In the end these "wastes of money" are really quite an investment in priceless memories that will last a lifetime for those of us who are foodies.  

If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. JRR TOLKIEN

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


“Our memories of the ocean will linger on, long after our footprints in the sand are gone.”

When life gets stressful I usually can let it roll until I can deal well with whatever is going on. One of the places that I think about when times are chaotic is the beach.  I believe that there are mountain people and beach people. I happen to be a beach person.  

When I was a child my parents went through a familiar, particularly among immigrants, ritual with the beach. Woken up very early in the morning, packing lunch and snacks, backgammon games, drinks, beer maybe, a radio, a sheet and of course towels.  This was in the days where I and all children sat without booster seats or seat belts, often in the divide between my parents front seats. Our massive 1975 Buick LeSare, ironically almost as large as my first apartment, air conditioned with an eight track player, height of loaded for those days. These were the days when people were smoking in these cars with their kids in the back and sunblock yet to be mandatory or even thought of. They were also the days of music ours and theirs, the clank of the dice on the backgammon board and lots of laughter.  Off we went often following or being followed by a few other Romanian families my parents were friends with, whose kids to this day are my closest friends (love you girls).  We got to Jones Beach beating traffic due to 830 am or earlier departures.

We always parked at Field 4, lugging coolers, radios, our not woken up selves on the long trek to the beach.  For any of you not familiar this is not a short, quick walk, it is a lengthy schlep. Once we arrived on the boardwalk we always went to our right, going toward the same spot that we always went to. These trips were really great, walking and scoping out boys, seeing how much we  far we can get from our parents to pretend to not "be" with them, playing in the giant waves, begging and not getting to eat the food from the concession stand (that food is terrible, I  brought a nice sandwich...refrains from our Mothers).  They often ended after 3 pm at which point we went to a picnic area in Valley Stream for barbecues of Romanian specialties.  We girls were burnt then browned and blonder by the end of the summer. Our friendship forged with shared secrets and squabbles.  I am not sure we ever thanked our parents for these trips. They enjoyed them too dancing, singing, laughing with each other...losing their stress I assume.

I have spent many summers at Jones Beach and it still remains one of my favorites. As my friends and I got older and started to drive by ourselves to the beach we discovered
 Field 6, high irony here since this was so much closer parking (practically on the beach) when I now only carried a bamboo mat rolled around a towel, walkman, book and tanning oil (I tend not to burn and the SPF factor never went up past 4 until much later in my life). We often had to wait to park at this field as we were no longer up before 10 am, tired from adventures the night before. 

These days we have a place near a beach in Rhode Island and our boys love spending their summer weekends there, sunscreen on of course, back to schlepping a ton of stuff for these trips (the smaller the child the more stuff they seem to require during these outings).  I have been to many beaches and have loved most.  There is nothing that makes me smile more than then thought of a lazy summer day, lying on the sand , reading, walking on the beach, swimming in the ocean.  I even love the beach in the winter, the golden hues of the summer replaced by misty grey shades. The smell of the salt air, the woosh of the waves and suddenly my stress levels are down.  In my list of wish to haves a house on the beach is very high on the list. Until then I wish you all a day in your place of stress relief, me I am off to Field 6 in my mind......

Saturday, March 19, 2011

People try to push us around..Talking 'bout my generation

I am a child of change, both personal and public.  I have grown up being moved from one country/continent to another, moved more times than I can keep track of (of my own free choosing) and switched careers.  All of this is actually not that unusual for my generation.

For those of us born in the 60s, itself a time of great shifts throughout the world, we have lived with the laid back 70s, the hyper/"greed for lack of a better word is good" 80s, the fall of that junk bond economy that thrust us into a work force which was beaten and lacked luster 90s, to the changing of a century, all the while adapting.  We are Generation X according to "they", you know "they" who know everything; slackers, not loyal, disbelievers in the "system" - those are the labels attached to us.   Unlike previous generations we are not loyal to employers, why should we be as they have encouraged us to manage our own growth, often while downsizing our opportunities.  For us migration is not a bad thing, we move to new places but stay loyal to our childhood friends and neighborhoods.  As a generation we tend to not have attachments to conventional institutions and beliefs and instead put our friends and priorities above those of what is expected.  We have seen governments come and go, countries shift names and boundaries, and continue to know that the only constant is change. We are still believers in "could happen".  

We have lived through one of the fastest evolutions of technology that will ever happen....all past generations did not imagine it and all future generations expect it.  We went from a world that was bound to one that is portable (remote controls, dvds, cell phones, cordless phones). Our mail has come through the slot as well as on our computers.  Our parents bought us encyclopedia sets and we help our children via the internet.  

All of these things are part of other generations but for ours this never ending movement is the way it has always been.  We are the adaptive generation, we optimistically hope we can push the world to a better place and realistically applaud every small step, we consume and recycle, we move forward with the tide rather than swimming against it. Generation X ....well you can call us many thing but never boring!

"Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, oh look out you rock and rollers, Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes Pretty Soon Now You're Gonna Get a Little Older--Time May Change Me but I can't trace time" - David Bowie

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Tennis anyone

After many years of watching tennis from a far and peeking through the glass at the people playing at my health club I finally decided that no matter what the outcome I was going to try and learn to play tennis. This was met with a variety of reactions.  My husband, who said this would be a great You Tube laugh a ton, told me that I may want to stick with walking. Those who do not know me well  assumed this must be one of many sports I actually am learning.  I live in an area where many people play and when I mentioned lessons they thought I was getting a refresher course.  

I avoided participating in sports as much as possible until my late 20s.   I am the girl who bought Primatene mist and told a HS gym teacher I had asthma and that I could not bring a note because my parents could not afford the doctor (that worked for about a year).  The girl who got rides around the block while smoking to complete the President's physical assessments (remember those? - do they still exist?).  Since I went to parochial prep school we had a dress code involving skirts and  I did not like changing my stockings, ruining makeup and getting frizzier hair (products not what they are today).  However, this is also the girl who loves to and can dance, who walks miles in cities and on beaches and who really liked a good game of handball in a school yard.  In my 20s I found power walking and realized I am a really fast walker and fairly slow runner.  I love putting on my music and going 5- 6 miles, feeling good at the end of it.  I even like the gym now.

This was not my first foray into tennis lessons.  My parents, again limited funds but lots of optimism as they both had been athletic in their youth, had gotten me tennis lessons.  The lessons were with another Romanian ex-pat who had played tennis semi-pro and was now living in the States working with Bjorn Borg (yes that one).  Peter was nice and patient.  He and his wife were both really attractive and  I distinctly remember that they looked great in their tennis whites.  Tennis outfits are part of the appeal of this sport for me.  I welcomed the chance to try it.  Tennis is one of those sports that looks like you should enjoy playing. It had the appeal of appearing, to my naive eyes, as not too strenuous and  that it would not involve me having to run against any other person (all misconceptions have since been dispelled).  I had 2 or 3 lessons at which point he declared "she is a really nice girl but tennis will never be for her".  It broke my heart, for a minute anyway.

My son had been asking for a year for tennis lessons (we signed him up and he is doing well and loves them) and I thought I would take some also.  My first few lessons proved to me that my athleticism had improved with age and that tennis is not easy to learn or play but is something I really enjoy.  I have found another Mom friend, benefit of MNO, who was not falsely modest when she said she too did not play well and we are having a great time playing and practicing together.  I am not competitive and neither is she so our matches tend to be encouraging and we will get better. I did buy the little skirts, slave to fashion and cute outfits as always, and will keep taking private lessons.  I still think I am a nice girl only now am one that will be playing tennis .....Love - 40+

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Piano Lessons

In my parents' Romania there were two things that were seen as integral to augment school education, one was the learning of a foreign language and the other learning how to play an instrument (preferably the violin or piano).  They dutifully hired a French tutor for me when I was about 3 or 4 and I promptly disliked her and the language immediately.  I did become pretty good at hiding from her and distracting the other kids who were learning with me also.  To this day French is the one Romance language I have no interest in.  

About a year after I arrived in the States my parents met an elderly couple at a Romanian gathering.  She taught piano lessons. Since my French lessons had amounted to merde (see I did learn some of that language) my parents promptly hired her to teach me.  My parents did not have a lot, ah who am I kidding any, discretionary income for these lessons but they did it anyway.  My piano teacher was in her  70s, which to me at the time was about as ancient as a human being could be, funny how that perception changed as I got older.  She had once been an incredibly wealthy woman in Romania, whose family had everything taken away from them by the Communist regime.  Mrs. Bratu was maybe 5 feet tall, or even a bit tinier, with the best skin I have ever seen.  It was smooth and porcelain and smelled of talcum powder, which to this day I still think smells like older ladies of that era.  Her apartment was small and full of old time sepia pictures, doilies and a baby grand.  She had been taught by famous pianists of her time and had a tremendous love of classical music.  Mrs. Bratu's appearance as a frail older lady though was a bit deceptive.

She had lived the most incredible and brave life of anyone I have ever personally known, bar none,  to this day.  Her 2 husbands had been political activists. They fought against a brutal regime that tolerated no dissent and aimed for total submission without question.  Her first husband died during one of their many incarcerations, a victim of multiple hours of torture and beatings.  Most of her adult life had been spent in various jails with inmates who were not dissidents but rather criminals.  She had not lost herself or her dignity in these places. Her belief that the Communist regime, which had such dire consequences for Romania, would eventually fall never wavered. I remember how full of  joy she had been when it finally did.

My piano lessons consisted of me trying to get out of them and my Mother's various ploys to see if I practiced (most famous among them was her asking me every day before my Friday lesson if I had practiced to which I adamantly confirmed that I had and on that Thursday her bringing me nicely to the piano, opening the cover and showing me the clothes pins she had put on each key all the while asking me how did I manage to practice around them....can you say busted?) They also consisted of Mrs. Bratu telling me the most amazing stories, coaxing me through years of lessons, gaining my respect so that I practiced more for her than for anything else, sheltering me from my Dad's displeasure at making mistakes as I played and most of all leaving me with a love classical music and tremendous respect for this incredible woman.

My eldest son is showing an interest in taking piano lessons which we will try start next Fall.  I know Mrs. Bratu has long since passed away and I am pretty sure that no matter how good his teacher is, he will not have the unique experience that I had with her.  However, if they can manage to open his heart and his mind to music the way she did mine the lessons will be priceless.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mom's Night Out

The term Mom's Night Out only became part of my lexicon only since I became a Mom.  I do not recall any Mothers doing this when I was growing up, even the more risqué Mothers (you know the ones you wished you had then and are glad you did not now) went out drinking but usually not with other Moms.  These days even a quick search on Facebook results in many MNO (it has become an acronym) groups all over the U.S.  

For those men out there reading this, sorry to disappoint but there will be no Da Vinci code revelation here. No secret passwords, chants or burnings in effigy occur.  Nor do we put on white tee shirts and pillow fight, guess I killed every fantasy out there. These events, which in our group, are very much looked forward to and held almost as sacred time.  We try to do them every 2 months, on a weeknight and we do our best to support the local economy.  Dori is our dedicated organizer.  Her invitations are as funny and as anticipated as the actual events.  She has been so good at doing this that the rest of us have abdicated all responsibilities for the planning and replaced with it lavish, heartfelt praise for her skills. She has told us that she may retire from this function but we all hope she reconsiders, her wit and 7 degrees of separation from each attendee will be impossible to replace. The group started out with  about 5 moms and has grown to over 12, that number keeps increasing.  We don't talk much about husbands, except at the beginning of the night, when we swap stories of how we had to prepare everything before our departures and how across ethnicities and ages all of our husbands seem to think we have the magic formula that makes things that we use daily appear (their questions similar; what do our kids eat, what am I having for dinner? and our answers No dear there is no Maxwell Smart type hideaway for our sundries).  This usually leads to the "but we love them because after all they are home watching the kids" while we are out together agreement.  We do talk about our kids but not as the sole topic of discussion.  The talk ranges from deeply emotional, political, how to navigate schools and religious instruction (most of us less inclined to believe in organized religions, most of us couples of mixed faiths, all of us believers in the power of being good to one another).  There is a lot of laughter.  The strength of these nights is in the female bonds that are created which are called upon when we need a shoulder, a recipe, advice, or just to vent on the non-MNO nights.  

Tonight is Mom's Night Out and I cannot wait.  I have met some incredibly intelligent, beautiful and overwhelmingly generous women and my life is better for it.  These nights are not soul nurturing for the fact that we get some time where we do not need to be anything to someone else but because after them we are recharged to be the best anything someone else needs.  

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Purple Chicken

If I could have one bigger room in my house it would be the kitchen.  I would love one of those kitchens that you see in home design shows with granite counters, loads of cabinet space, an overpriced stove with a double oven and an island.   This would mean that the dining room would have to go to accomodate this our house yet I do not long for a bigger house.  The dream kitchen would be the supporting player in meals I love to cook.  I like to crank up my music and have a glass of wine while I am cooking. I love the smells and the whole transformation process.  The meals often lean toward gourmet and I get excited at the prospect of nibbling on the ingredients and a pretty presentation.

I was not always a good cook in fact I wasn't even a decent cook.  In my first apartment, the kitchen was actually decent size  and the living/dining room small.  For my first foray into entertaining I was ambitious in this 500 sq ft location. I decided to do Thanksgiving for friends the Wednesday before the actual holiday.  I heard you gasp as you read this but I was 21 and absolutely needed no advice from my Mother or anyone else who had done this before because as we all remember you are brilliant and all knowing at that age. More people than could comfortably fit were invited, tables and chairs were borrowed and a lot of food was bought.  The turkey was bought that day, it was still frozen when my friends got there, though I valiantly did defrost it via a host of methods.  The oven, which I had never used prior to this, had a habit of turning on and off.  As for basting, foreign term to me at that point, there was of course nothing ready.  We monitored the on/off oven, basted it with beer, ate after 10 pm, drank cheap wine and decent beer and had a great time if not necessarily a good meal.  I distinctley remember that everyone thought the turkey tasted like ham and was edible.  I did buff up my skills after that and started to ask for and listen to advice from cook books and family.

My next few meals were cooked for guys I was dating, kept simple and pretty good.....signature desert of  home made chocolate dipped fruit always impressed. So with this new found confidence my good friend and I decided to cook dinner for our boyfriends.  Kathy and I thought that chicken Marsala sounded fancy enough while still not too challenging to make.  So onward we went food shopping, laughing and prepping.  We had limited funds and infinite optimism.  We bought a lovely Marsala wine, recommended by the liquor store clerk, vintage unknown.  Her whole apartment smelled delicious but as we cooked our chicken in the Marsala wine, which was really cheap, it turned a lovely shade of mauve and then deep purple.  Kathy and I took turns staring at this color which really was meant more for a shirt than chicken, laughed and decided the men we were with (which we both later married) had to love us even with a purple chicken dish!  As odd as it looked it was delicious, think stick of butter can salvage almost any dish.  We had dinner with Kathy and her husband, and our children, last night and Kathy has become an amazing cook so everything looked as appealing as it tasted.

I love to cook, do it well, and am always looking to improve and expand my skill set.  My children seem to be interested in eating only a limited menu (but that is blog onto itself) but my friends and family have enjoyed many meals here.  Even with the less than Martha Stewart approved dinners mentioned above the act of cooking and sharing meals with friends still were great successes, friendships in many ways are like making a perfect dish, you add good ingredients, nurture while it comes together and in the end have something that gives you great pleasure.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Journaling....journeying through the past

"Journal writing is a voyage to the interior." Christina Baldwin

My previous blog led me to think about another favorite hand written activity.  I have kept a journal since I called it a diary.  My collection of journals spans grammar school crushes, high school dramas, college adventures, loves that flourished and flopped, a lot of moves, successes and my children's lives from pregnancy onward. They have captured the moments my friendships were made and the moments some of them ended.  I find myself transported back in time with every re-read.

In my HS we had to write in our journals at the start of every English class for all 4 years there.  These counted toward your grade and were checked, withouth being read we were assured and pretty much true since no action was ever taken to my knowledge, by our teachers. It was after all the previous century before cell phones and beepers so these were our text messages.  They were left in lockers, our own with shared combinations, for friends to pick up read what you were thinking and comment on their day.  They capture a lot of time planning "accidental" meetings with boys we had crushes on, pushing a lot of limits, dances, leaving the borough on our own and lots of complaining about how we were bored and had nothing to do all while doing a lot of nothing in alley ways, candy stores, and school yards.  People appear in these pages who I would not recall otherwise, as well friends who are still an integral part of my life.  They are mini time capsules  (remember the walkman, the vcr, Atari, playing video games outside of your house for quarters, cheap cigarettes, capezios, 45s, Friday Night Videos, non-cable tv tat ended at some point, mc jackets, hoodies with dungaree jackets, ear cuffs, roach clips...).  They help me remember our innocence and loss of it. Last year I went to my 25th ( the hell did that happen?!) HS reunion passing by these same lockers, walking through the place that I had written about in the journals, the place all of us who had at one time felt as we could not leave fast enough now crowded with those same people who could barely pull themselves away when the reunion ended.

The post HS ones chronicle lots of dancing, very little sleep and a lot of travels with friends that make me smile even as I write this. These have less angst, less boredom but more passion and understanding.  They capture my very long on and off relationship with my husband and those who held his place when we were not together.  My children's milestones in utero and as they grow, chronicled with the love and awe I feel at having them in my life.

My journals are everything from marble notebooks to beautifully crafted bound books.  Some are a few books I wrote, some are poetry and all are very much a legacy of my life. If my boys ever read them, it would tell them their Mom was more complex than they may have thought and give them a sense of a girl and woman who loved her life even when her life wasn't loving her back and who appreciated all the good things it had to offer.   

"Every man's memory is his private literature" - Aldous Huxley