Food has always been a cornerstone of my life. I have been interested in the preparation, ingredients, techniques, flavor combinations, experiences, and the sense of family and community around a table, since I was a little kid. My parents were explorers. My mother had classic style and was endlessly adventuresome. With Julia Child in the national spotlight, my mother experimented with quiche, coq a vin, and baked Alaska. My father loved Chesapeake and Blue Point Oysters, and beef tartare with raw egg yolk, capers and Worcestershire sauce on Sundays while he sipped thick, colorful and pungent Bloody Mary's. Every spring, they bought shad roe from the local monger, wrapped in the telltale brown paper, and served it with crispy bacon and capers. Holidays were magical with flawless layouts of exquisitely garnished roasts, gorgeous table settings, crystal, flowers, and complimentary music and candles.
Flavors and textures have been forever embedded in my memory. I remember muesli with evaporated milk from German kindergarten. As a six year old, I was fascinated by my Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother doing something magical and funny with her fingers yielding the flakiest shortbread and pie crusts. We ate Raclette in Zermatt and beef fondue around the family dinner table. The aroma of the smoking peanut oil and smack of the hot, oily crispy beef, cloaked in sumptuous sauces, kept us at the table for hours. My first real job, at 16, was at a sweet little establishment in Chatham, New Jersey, called the Joie de Vivre. Joie de vivre is a French phrase often used to express a cheerful enjoyment of life; an exultation of spirit. Be it the joy of conversation, joy of eating, joy of anything one might do… that pretty much sums it up for me. Food and the entire happy circus around its preparation and consumption shaped the trajectory of my life
After high school, I followed my boyfriend on his post grad travels. As I awaited my entrance to The Culinary Institute of America, (CIA) I got a job as one of the first female cooks at a high end Italian restaurant, Modesto Lanzone’s in Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. There I learned how to make fresh Zabaglione with marsala over a hot flame, roast lamb skulls for Head Cheese, and prep ingredients for the line cooks. I chopped 20 lbs of garlic a day, which would penetrate my skin and dissolve my nail polish. In 1980, I entered The CIA in Hyde Park, New York. On weekends, I journeyed to New York City where we catered on fleets of yachts in the New York Harbor and in elegantly decorated lofts, warehouses and brownstones, with guest lists of up to two thousand people. One party, for the opening of Hair, held at the Pier on the West Side, had a 747 flown in with enough greenery to create a make-believe Central Park.
After graduation from the CIA, I made my way to the Hamptons and was introduced to Ina Garten. The Barefoot Contessa was just opening, and I became one of the first to wield a spatula in her kitchens. I learned a lot from Ina, and I think she learned a lot from me too. She was new to the kitchen, but knew exactly how she wanted things done. Near the end of my 20’s, I decided to throw in the towel (or in this case, the apron.) After nearly a decade in the food and entertainment industry, I retreated to the comforts of the college classroom. I was strapped with too many late nights in the kitchens, tattooed with battle scars of back breaking work and burn marks up and down my arms, fat and miserable. I decided to take a bite out of a different, fleshier path that would bear a different fruit of happiness. I married young and pursued a career full of international travel, marketing strategy, and big-business. While it felt more like passing time than doing God’s work, I was able to work from home, raise my children, and keep the homefires burning (so to speak.) Today, my food proclivity has morphed from pure culinary experience and expression to manageable, mindful, meaningful, conscious eating. And to be fair, I am not an obsessive; I just needed to find a new way to bridge indulgence with sustenance; be reasonable about the portions; properly fuel myself and the people I care most about.
To be clear, we are not throwing out the brownies and the beer battered shrimp, but merely lessening their presence. My husband is also a borderline diabetic, so keeping the ingredients clean, and the glycemic impact low, is literally a life or death situation. In my kitchen, the ingredients I work with are fresh, local if possible, and focused on sustainable proteins, delicious sauces, fresh fruits and vegetables, whole wheat carbs, and healthy starches. Hey, I’m not the sugar and carb police but I do believe that indulgence is best done moderately. Even if the ingredients aren’t as sexy as say a molten lava cake, the foundation of why I love the kitchen is the same. Cooking for me is all about the love of the process, fresh ingredients, a healthy body and most importantly, the family and community I share it with.
Join me as I explore “healthy indulgence”, with a sprinkle of European influence, sourcing from the Connecticut Hills and beyond!