I am a pretty good cook.
Okay, I think I am a very good cook. I’m not in the Bobby Flay, Mario Battali and Jamie Oliver class but I can hold my own in the kitchen. I am a guy who used to keep Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking by my bedside for a light snack of food wisdom.
Growing up in a household where food was part nurturing ritual and part religion, I got the message early. There is nothing in this world like a well made meal filled with love. Mom’s brisket or confetti jello mold always brought a smile to my face. (At least until I gave up eating meat about 20 years ago). Aunt Rita’s chopped liver or Grandma Fannie’s Stuffed Cabbage always put me in awe of the great cooks who could effortlessly prepare a meal. And although the ingredients and techniques are important, you just can’t substitute that most special ingredient that helps completes a meal and infuses it with joy. LOVE.
|Crab Cakes with a Balasamic Reduction|
When I left 20 Warwick Circle
for college at The University of Pennsylvania, I knew that at some point I would be on my own and have to learn how to feed myself. So I read the classics (Julia Child), worked in some great restaurants (Commissary and Friday, Saturday and Sunday
) and learned how to make wonderful meals. Keep in mind this was pre-Internet and pre-Food Network and all I really had was the Aunt Annette
who would always help me find my path through sauté and soufflé. Mom taught me the practical stuff and Annette helped me with the more exotic fare. I was on my way and ready to take on the world one course at a time.
|My beautiful wife Ra El |
I think I wooed my beautiful wife Ra El in part with my cooking talent. She thought it was an extraordinary feat when I cooked my first meal for her consisting of filet mignon with a butter cognac sauce. To me it was simply p.343 of a wonderful cookbook that I read over and over again. I dazzled her with potatoes Dauphinoise with the subtlety of mixing gruyere and nutmeg. Even a simple tart made with raspberries kissed with Grand Marnier was my type of a love letter. I knew we would be together forever when in the middle of a great meal we would begin talking about what we would eat at our next meal.
Once married in on September 11, 1977
, I got the leading role in the kitchen as my bride was happy to be the sous-chef. Together we explored wonderful meals as we cooked our way through the classics like Julie Powell did in her blog The Julie and Julia Project. However we did it in the late 70’s preceding Ms. Powell by 35 years.
|Ra El feeding Sarah in Springfield, New Jersey|
Then our beautiful first daughter Sarah Rebecca was born on October 4, 1981.
|Jeff and Sarah |
As she moved from bottles to baby food to real food I could not wait to bring delight to her little taste buds. The year was 1983 and little Sarah was moving into the terrible twos. What could possibly be terrible about being two? She was walking, talking and filled with a pure joy of exploration.
|Sarah faces breakfast|
I was determined to make for her some of the great meals that I enjoyed cooking with the confidence that she too would eat them up. Subtle flavors blended with a hint of the right fresh herbs would awaken in her little belly an appetite for life. I knew I couldn’t start her off with things that are too rich like rice soubise or coq au vin as I thought where to begin. My plans to cook up a storm got dampened quickly.
|Dannon banana yogurt|
It was all about the yogurt. Banana yogurt. Dannon banana yogurt. Every meal.
Every day. Every week. Every month.
And yes it was Dannon. Not Acme private label. Not some health food store organic all natural stuff with chunks of banana in it.
Just Dannon Banana Yogurt.
Although I’m not sure if it lasted for a few months or the whole year but I think that Sarah Rebecca only ate this one food. Maybe she would eat a piece of toast or some scrambly egg when I wasn't looking.
|Let her eat cake!|
I would try a beautifully roasted chicken with a natural juice reduction with butter and tarragon. There was homemade bread or pizza from scratch but not a whiff of interest. I would even try cakes, ice cream and cookies yet this little two year old wanted yogurt. Banana yogurt. Dannon banana yogurt.
I wonder if this yogurt stuff was addictive? Did it have some kind of narcotic effect that made her want more and more and more?
“Pssst. Hey kid, try this yogurt…you’ll love it. Just try it once.”
I don’t recall any yogurt drug dealers in the Acme Supermarket where we used to shop. I do recall filling a shopping cart with 35 Dannon Banana Yogurts and trying to explain it to some 15 year old check out clerk.
Was this child really ours? Did she get switched at birth at the hospital with some other kid who is eating her way through pate, paella and pesto?
Truth be told Sarah did include Cheerios as part of her diet. I can still see them stuck to her fingers and forehead as she gobbled them up.
Over time Sarah did venture into new foods. Not the most adventurous of eaters but she finally moved into another major food.
Canned pasta. Yikes.
Please don't let anyone see me in the grocery store buying this stuff.
|A new food group|
Enter Chef Boyardee Ravioli. Or as Sarah liked to call it Ravi Rolly. This became the next food group in her diet. Most dinners would involve a gourmet meal for us and Ravi Rolly for Sarah with a Dannon banana yogurt chaser. She didn’t want to try anything new. That is an understatement. She now had two course diet. It felt like it went on for years.
I wondered what her life might be like eating just two things?
I would imagine the scene....twenty seven years in the future, The year would be 2010 and Sarah would be out on a date with some nice guy and he would be ordering the a Caesar Salad, Steak au Poivre and an Old Vine Zinfandel from Northern California
. Sarah would have the Dannon banana yogurt to start and the Rav Rolly for her entrée.
Eventually things change. Big surprise.
|Say Grilled Cheese|
Sarah’s appetite woke up and she started to try things but still within a fairly limited range. She worked her way up the food tree experimenting with things like hot dogs, french fries and chicken fingers with ketchup. As she grew into her teens she would eat Mexican food and eventually Chinese. And she learned to find the greatest comfort in grilled cheese and Campbell's Tomato Soup. By the time she reached high school, she could go to Applebees and feel right at home.
|The perfect meal|
|Sushi at Sansei in Honolulu|
So you can imagine my great pleasure when as an adult she started eating things like an Ono Sandwich (Ono is a Hawaiian fish sometimes called Wahoo) or Sushi. Sushi? I mean here she is eating raw fish and I couldn’t get her to try my roast chicken or a perfectly made crème brulee. To this day it makes me smile to see her eating and exploring wild and exotic foods like Moroccan, Polynesian or Thai cuisine.
What did you make for yourself this week? “Oh, I tossed some grilled Ahi into a salad with a light lemon tahini dressing Dad…how about you and Mom?
So what is the life lesson?
In hindsight I should have been wise enough to realize that eventually her interest in food would emerge and that a diet of just Dannon banana yogurt couldn’t last forever.
|Sarah takes a flying leap over Australia|
|Jeff and Sarah in Kauai|
In her travels around the world from Italy
to New Zealand
and eventually in her home in Hawaii
, she would explore food as she has explored the world.
Today Sarah is the extraordinary woman I knew she would be. With a heart filled with love and a spirit matched only by her beauty, she is on a remarkable journey living on Oahu in Hawaii teaching at The Punahou School. Nothing gives me greater pleasure when the phone rings and it is Sarah on the other end asking me for my roast chicken recipe. My work here is done.
Sarah is so adventurous that she actually jumped out of an airplane.
I guess I too should have taken a leap of faith
believing the old saying that "this too will pass". Things have their own timing and sometimes just taking a deep breath and being patient is all you can do.
The lesson for me is that like yogurt, change take time to ferment.
Labels: Aunt Rita, Banana Yogurt, Food and Wine Moments, Grilled Cheese, Julia Child, Ravioli, Sarah