Amateur What?

I live over a lake where the wind changes every 30 seconds. I imagine myself as an air traffic controller telling each plane to take a different trajectory to land safely. Don’t worry, I will not become one.

As a kid I wanted to name things, like crayon or paint colors. I might have been good at that as a career. Burnt Sienna was my favorite crayon, partially because of the color and also because of the texture.

I’m a foodie and may actually write a story/cook book soon. I did go to cooking schools in NY and Italy and learned a lot but was not in the business for long.

Writer of great fiction or even non-fiction. I’ve been afraid to take that on, probably because of a snide laugh and a “no” from a publisher.

Art historian or conservator. I’ve aptitude only for the first.

Running a non-profit organization, probably a no-kill animal shelter. They don’t call me Aunt Dee in our communities for nothing.

A good cook. I am one, and with training should be a professional but I had an accident (not culinary) that took me out of the business for a while and I turned my sights to other pursuits.

Of course, first female President, gold medal Olympics gymnast, ballet dancer, horsewoman. Perhaps I should place some of these on a bucket list. Forget President.

In the real world one thing I would like to do is to save feral cats. Out west caretakers trap them and bring them in for spay/neuter and health care, then take them back behind a strip mall where they were picked up knowing they’re OK, and provide food. Here, I believe they are just shot. I would like to change that. If someone tosses a box of kittens into a dumpster, it’s not their fault and they should have a chance at life.

Years ago I walked up to San Miniato al Monte above Florence, Italy that is a route I’ll never get to walk again. There’s a church on the way up and a lady who brought spaghetti for dei gatti (the feral cats). I came back the next day and gave her about $20 and she said no. I told her it was for the cats, so she accepted it. There are kind people, priests behind the church feeding ferals, and other caretakers all over the world. I’ve changed a few things in this town. Now might be the right time.

No, I will never be President, thank goodness. I do small things where we live, like a crosswalk nobody stops at, a pat on the chest for a dog, hug for a cat or helping someone through any loss.

I’m no good at loss. Our Uncle died the other day and was buried today. I talked to my father-in-law tonight for a while about the service that we could not attend. Our dog had a seizure the other day and I’ve been up day and night making sure she’s breathing and taking her out every couple of hours because she’s old and now on steroids and drinking water like crazy. What? I can do something about that. Aunt Dee to the rescue! Cheers, Dee


Fancy Food

Yes, I did graduate from a French culinary school in NYC and got to cook graduation dinner with my seven compatriots. Dinner was at the James Beard House and my large, extended family sat upstairs in his bedroom at the largest table in the room and stayed for a feast of re-imagined leftovers, 20 new dishes for family and the entire neighborhood.

Well, not the entire neighborhood, I excepted the guy who made me have a doggie bag in my hand, visible at all times when I visited, and who told my parents they were not allowed to have a holiday wreath on the front door. He lived his life to complain to the homeowners association for suspected violations. Hey, I cleaned up after the family dog in 4′ of snow and deposited it appropriately when I visited. The fact that the bag was in my coat pocket at the time is not worthy of a complaint.

Anyway, they were not invited. Later that day, for extended family, I prepared a side of salmon with scallop mousse, covered with sliced zucchini to look like fish scales and my cousin made fried parsley for garnish. I don’t remember what greens or potatoes we had with it. That was the only time I ever made that dish.

Yes, I’ve made cassoulet with lamb and sausage and all the trimmings. Once, for my father. He told me it was the best meal he ever had. It only took two days to prepare.

Then I decided that all the great French chefs, Escoffier, Careme were creating master sauces to cover the smell of rotting meat, because there was no refrigeration. Come on, the French only bathed once a month and used perfume instead.

Immediately I went south to Italy and Greece, have yet to visit Spain. Few ingredients, best ingredients and care taken in selection, preparation and execution. We’re set up for homemade hand-cranked pasta, and fluffy pancakes with whipped egg whites. My husband loves basic spaghetti and meatballs in a jarred tomato cream sauce but it all comes from the premier Italian market right down the street.

I can make a fantastic beef stew that includes sauteed onions, bacon and a bottle of good amber beer. Moussaka, though my husband hates eggplant, Veal or chicken Milanese. He has favorites that made their way through powdered lemonade, individually packaged string cheese, all the way to discussions about a 4-5 year-old cheddar, and whether it will be filet au poivre or skirt steak with a parsley chimichurri. That’s the way it rolls here. Gotta go check on the dog to see if she’s breathing. Cook! Dee


Good Food

Welcome India, Nicaragua, South Africa, Serbia and Ireland!

I took a center piece of salmon, skinned it, placed it on a bed of braised leeks with salt, pepper and grainy mustard and cooked it en papillote. Parchment paper, a heart that I fold my own way. 8-10 minutes in a 350 degree oven for a 4-5 oz piece.

I’ve red, white and purple baby potatoes that I parboiled the other day and added a bit of mayo and tarragon, s&p. Also I roasted some baby kale in a touch of olive oil, s&p until they were crispy.

Tasty nuggets of goodness! After her neural incident the other day ancient dog Zoe is on antibiotics and steroids. It was determined not to be a seizure because she never lost consciousness. All I know is that I stay up much of the night to make sure she is breathing. Her breathing has gone back to normal but she was tripping over herself in the snow early this morning. I’ll try to run to the store now while she sleeps. She doesn’t hear me or see me much (cataracts). She’s going through water like crazy and asking to go out every few hours! Oh well, I’m shy of her human age by about 40 years but hope my husband is around to help me out….. Another day, Dee


Family Meal

It means immediate family to most, plus extended family for holidays.

It also means the honor of cooking for fellow cooks and staff at a restaurant. I did that during my one-month internship after cooking our meal to family and friends a meal at the James Beard House in NYC for our culinary school graduation.

At my brief unpaid internship there would be an excess of just-caught wild salmon, or just picked chanterelle mushrooms and I’d have to make do with anything we had in the walk-in refrigerator. Fishers, farmers and foragers made their way to our door and some of it became our “family meal.”

No need to worry about me going on “Chopped” or “Top Chef.” I took a job after that, back home, did one shift and had a few hours the next day to look for a better job. I was offered one. They called me a Cadillac in a VW factory. Handling my folder, sun glasses and car keys I tripped up the stair, broke a finger and couldn’t use my knives for six weeks.

So I became a consultant for arts and education non-profits and decided to work in only one kitchen, my own. Now family meal means my husband, and we usually sit on the sofa, this weekend we watched Star Wars VII. Of course our old dog had already eaten but was hanging around in case something dropped. That is our immediate family.

I made a pork tenderloin, s&p, grainy mustard slathered above it, and hard apple cider placed in a zip bag in a bowl (in case it leaks) in the frig overnight. Potato salad from small, boiled colored potatoes with mayo and tarragon, and small romaine leaves and tomatoes for a green salad. I placed the pork in a cast iron pan and seared it then put it in the oven until done to taste. I’ve cheater instructions for that so you don’t have to go out and buy a thermometer pen. Sorry, Alton Brown. My husband uses one for the grill but I go by feel.

Cheers! Dee





A Good Man

died less than two hours ago. Two weeks ago it was Easter Sunday and a bunch of family and friends were at Nanny’s and he was out of bed and upbeat as always.

I was talking to my husband on his cell for a few minutes and Mr. S. grabbed the phone and said “hi Dee,” same thing my father used to say when he called me.

Instead of Easter, he said “Happy April Fools Day!” I replied that he couldn’t trick me because I was many miles away. He responded “there’s a possum in your house!” He was “up” physically and mentally for a day or two so we played the possum thing out.

Today I called just to see how he was doing. His sister-in-law answered the phone and said he died two minutes ago. I let her go immediately as I knew she had important things to do. Nanny has now lost three of her five children and has two sons remaining, one is my father-in-law. Mr. S got to see a baseball game last weekend with his brother, and will be wearing a local football tie at his funeral. I sent a baseball lapel pin for his suit, hope it comes in time. He did love sports.

A gentle spirit was lost today. We must give a thought for happy, encouraging, enervating, funny, kind people who have lived a good life. Sadly, Dee

Framing Memories

Framing seems permanent. Not so an elegant brunch or dinner party which is gone in a couple of hours. After college my roommate brought me to a framing store and taught me the ubiquitous “uniframe.” Have the folks at the store dry-mount it and cut the glass and then we place it all in a plastic holder with string to hold it all together in back.

A uniframe looked better than posters with masking tape in back on concrete walls of the dorm.

Let’s talk states and countries. As I look at my chosen walls today, I’ve paintings, drawings and photographs, beautifully framed so I can remember my parents, siblings, my husband’s family and other dear folks.

It reminds me of adventures and to keep my tall husband from walking into low sconces on the walls. Thick frames. He will not hurt my photographs by walking under the sconce in the hallway. I place other things in front of other works, from furniture to a front-entry shoe/boot rack so he doesn’t hurt himself.

Greece, Pennsylvania, Italy, New York, Ireland, Texas, Indiana, Japan, Australia, California. I especially like our Tuscan retreat bedroom so that my husband can come home from work on weekends, sleep through it and never look at it! All I can say is that my framing of Tuscan lands must lull him into that much-needed sleep.

Much to do. Dee


The Ultimate Picnic

We used to be charged $5 to attend the government summer picnic. Being single I had to pay $5, yet a man with a party of five was charged the same rate. Let’s see, in accounting he paid $1 per person and I paid five, and he makes more than me for a lousy 46 bills a year. I have 750 and we’ve yet to hear of a computer. Come on, I still had a Rolodex.

I’m all for fairness. This is getting ridiculous, as single women do not get raises, are not treated fairly, and are propositioned all the time. Plus I had 3-10 times the bills to care for and no computer so everything was done by hand.

Our picnic was rained out. Deluge. We agreed that we would hold it indoors in the building’s conference room, not pay, and bring our own food.

There were paper tablecloths. Our team brought a linen tablecloth and napkins, plus silver candle-holders and candletsticks and fine china and wine. We each made something to contribute to the team, oh we even had fine silver ware and china and crystal serving devices for our culinary contributions.

The other teams got fast food. I only remember making a chilled cucumber/yogurt soup as a starter but there must have been more. It was a turnaround in my work life as people found me a force to be reckoned with and not the shy girl from the country. Word got around, and no elected official ever propositioned me again.

There were no plastic ants on the cake. I regret that they felt it necessary to break us up into teams because Mom had a silver punch server by then so I got her old glass one. It would have been nice if we could have made a party together. We were all friends, it was HR who dominated this event every year and probably made a kickback from our contributions to the caterer.

We made a statement. I made a statement. Soon after I left for greener pastures. They were not green. Double the money, my own office and a horrific boss. So I quit and went to cooking school, spent my life savings. It was worthwhile.  Cook something! Dee