Time Travel

Who is not ready to get out and start traveling? I know I am itching to go somewhere. This is the longest I’ve not been on a plane in I don’t even know how many years. I think about travel, dream about travel almost every day. I miss the craziness of being in an airport, being on a plane, hearing the loudspeaker say, be prepared for take off. I find myself surfing through my favorite country travel sites on Instagram and Facebook or watching travel related cooking shows. I also find myself reminiscing a lot about where I’ve traveled to and with whom. I can’t believe I’m writing that it’s been 3 years since my mom’s passing. Time does travel, sometimes all too fast. I wanted to share a story about a trip she and I took to France many years ago. It was a gift of my dad’s to us, so that we could spend some quality time together in France; a place he and I had spent time in when I was a teenager — that’s for a whole other story! Dad was himself very sick at this time and mom and I were hesitant about going but he insisted and we knew that our going would make him happy. That’s how he was, he never wanted anything big for himself, he got the most pleasure in giving. He knew we needed a break, and for those of you who’ve been through it, being a caretaker is very hard. So mom and I went on our first long mother – daughter trip to Paris, the City of Light, Art, Beauty and Wine & Food!

I set the itinerary and we would hit all the great sites in Paris, go to Versailles and make a special visit to Champagne Pol Roger, since I worked with them for many years while at my previous company. I’m pretty organized with trip itineraries, ask anyone who’s been on one with me and this was no different! I do a lot of research so that a trip comes together seamlessly to make it easy for all. Not having stayed in Paris for eons, I asked a friend for a recommendation for a hotel. I have to admit, I’m pretty picky about my hotels and don’t usually take recommendations for small boutique hotels, but I did this time. Lovely place in the 7th, seriously quaint, but as we all know, quaint doesn’t just mean cute, it also can mean small. And this place sadly was small. A double room as I learned meant just a room for 2, not a room with double beds. This one had one queen size bed in a room where we could pretty much touch the walls. So I freaked out a bit, talked my way out of the reservation and moved us to the Radisson Blu just outside the main part of the city. Now before you scoff at the American hotel chains, remember they are so much more grand when you get out of the US, almost like you’re not in a chain hotel. We were now comfortable, a little remote but it fit the budget and made us happy. Now we were set to conquer the city. I had been to Paris many times so I was super happy to be showing this to mom who had never been. I loved seeing how she loved the city. She was in good form and was able to do a lot of walking thank goodness, since Paris is truly, like New York or London, a walking city, best seen on foot.

Of course we went to the Louvre, Montmatre, Montparnasse etc… and to Versailles. We ate and ate and ate more. Dad allowed me to splurge on some amazing meals and I took her to 2 of my favorite places, one’s I had been to with dad when he was here — Taillavent and La Tour d’Argent. Walking into Taillavent with her was an experience. You stand a litle straighter, immediately feel elegant, and special. The food was extraordinary, the service was beyond reproach, your every wish is anticipated, you never feel surrounded by service, you just enjoy the moment. I also took her to the famous Tour d’Argent for their famed Canard a Presse, their pressed duck. Overlooking the Seine, it’s like you’ve stepped into a museum of food and wine. Their wine collection is fabled, but it’s the duck we were there for! Here’s an image of the famed Presse a Canard, the duck press, I will spare you the details, but you get the idea. If you want to look up how it’s used go ahead, it looks like a medieval torture device, but at the end of the day the duck was incredible.

We sipped coffee at Les Deux Magots, went to Fauchon where I think mom could have moved in, but one of our most memorable meals was at a Moroccan Restaurant called Al Mounia. We wanted to do something that wasn’t heavy french food, we wanted something that Paris was known for and Moroccan food was it. We went in and it felt like you were stepping into Morocco. I can still smell the spices today and remember vividly the Pastilla that we shared. A chicken pie that’s not just a chicken pie but a blend of warm spices enveloping chicken surrounded by a flaky pastry and topped with cinnamon and powdered sugar. Sweet, savory, warm and just oh so amazing. But it was the mint tea at the end, that I can still taste and smell just by remembering. I had never tasted anything like it, mint steeped in sweet water, it was truly delicious.

Other than Versailles, our only other excursion out of the city was to Epernay, for a visit with Christian and Danielle Pol Roger of Champagne Pol Roger. I hadn’t been back to that area of Champagne in many years. When I was in High School I spent a summer in Reims when I worked as a tour guide at Mumm, so I was eager to go back and bring mom. Christian Pol Roger was a gentleman in the truest sense. Elegant yet approachable, just like his Champagne, sums him up perfectly. Christian and his wife Danielle, could not have been more welcoming. Danielle took pride in showing mom her rose garden, where she had recently had a rose named for her. After our tour of the caves, we went back to their house and had a lovely lunch. I can still remember the fish pie she served us, it was the first time I had had one and it was delicious. I think it was accompanied by a Chablis from Moreau. At the end of the visit, Christian presented Mom with a bottle that he autographed and said that she and dad should share it for their upcoming anniversary. I recently heard that Christian passed away, and I can say that this is a loss for the world of wine, and Champagne in particular. At my old company, we had this wonderful winemaker tour called the Grand Tour, Christian was a cornerstone of this group of legends in wine. One day he and Olivier Leflaive turned around and started calling me “La Farine Francine”, which I took as a term of endearment. For those of you who don’t know, it’s also a brand of flour in France.

Anyway back to mom. Here’s a picture of her with Danielle and Christian in Danielle’s garden.

Time travel, time to travel, or time travels. Three years have gone by, so much has changed but the memories remain. We are lucky to be able to travel in time through our memories. Sometimes it’s a picture, a song, a place even a glass of wine, or a food that jogs our memory and allows us to travel back in time. For now I celebrate mom by traveling back in time to remember. I think I’ll open up a bottle of Pol Roger Champagne, toast her and travel a bit more in time.

What’s in Your Pantry?

I’ve been grappling with many topics in my head and trying to decide what to write about next. What came to me this morning was spurred by a column I read in the NY Times Food Section. The creator of From the Pantry, has decided to end the series which was created to help home cooks use what is in their pantries and turn those ingredients into fabulous, tasty meals. The column was created during the height of the Covid-19 Pandemic, when ingredients seemed to be scarce due to panic. I applaud her having created this column with its easy, readily accessible ingredients. I don’t want to seem overly critical, but we are still in the middle of a Pandemic and people are still at home and not dining out as much as they could or would pre-pandemic. She says that people are now dining out more — I am paraphrasing, and not in as much of a panic to stock their pantries. Here’s where I differ. And by the way, I will address dining out in another post but, right now I’d like to focus on cooking at home.

Cooking from our Pantries, Freezers, Fridges, what I call #PantryCooking #Freezercooking and #RefrigeratorCooking, is more important now than ever. Parents are stuck at home with their children, who are “going to school” virtually from their homes. Workers are stuck at home because they cannot go back to their offices, which have not yet opened up. From the Pantry’s creator says “cooking 3 meals a day is not as daunting as it once was” well tell that to the parent who has to make breakfast, lunch and dinner for the whole family every day, do their own professional job and supervise their child’s schooling. That parent doesn’t have time to shop every day for food. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts, my parents always kept a stocked pantry. Maybe they feared armageddon was coming, or it was a cultural thing or just a smart thing, but I too have a stocked pantry and not just out of Pandemic Fear. I don’t want to keep shopping! So I shop in my pantry. I live in the burbs and am lucky to have plenty of space — don’t judge!

As always I like to incorporate some of my recipes and food pictures. One night I looked in the freezer and saw that I had lamb chops so they became the inspiration for a dinner. I looked in the pantry and had some tandoori spices (you can use some cumin and coriander and paprika too) so I rubbed that over the lamb and then pan fried them — simple. I looked in the fridge and saw some carrots so I coated them in cumin and olive oil and roasted them — easy. Next I had some tahini and pine nuts in the pantry, mixed with a bit of lemon juice and put that over the carrots — yum. Finally there was some cauliflower that needed to be cooked so I mixed it with some cheddar and heavy cream and boom an easy gratin. All items were in the fridge and or pantry. Leftovers the next day were reimagined into tacos. I had some tortillas in the fridge, and made taziki sauce with cucumbers and yogurt, and topped all with feta crumbles and olives from the fridge — dinner reimagined.

I mention cooking with beans above and one of my favorite meals is actually made with a can of white beans — a pantry staple. Simple, chop an onion; onions are a pantry staple, cook in some olive oil, add some garlic and tomatoes and a can of white beans. Season with hot red pepper, salt and pepper and basil if you have it, cook for about half an hour until the beans are soft, keep adding olive oil to taste and keep it moist. To accompany the beans, I cooked shrimp that I had in the freezer in a simple lemon and butter sauce with a touch of leftover rose wine and boom you have shrimp scampi. An easy meal made with pantry items. And the next day, I used the leftover beans, added some chicken stock and a handful of spinach from the fridge and had a fantastic soup for lunch.

Soon most will not be able to dine outside; it will be too cold. Our kids will still be home and most of us will still be working remotely so we will have to keep planning 3 meals a day for home consumption. With our lives having shifted home I think it’s more important than ever to find ways to make ourselves comfortable and easy. So many people today are either unemployed or underemployed therefor, helping them find ways to use what they have already is still very relevant. We’ve pivoted inside and have had to adapt. In fact I think that for many, being home is more stressful than before, with more demands, and we must find ways to make our lives easier. So here’s to all the home cooks, I toast you! And remember to look in your pantry, fridge and freezer, there are meals waiting to happen. The meals don’t have to be fancy or made with many ingredients; it just takes time and planning!

A Rock, A Raccoon and Red Wine

I can honestly say 2020 has been one year I won’t be sorry to see end; and, we still have a little over 4 months to go. 2019 wasn’t too great either but 2020 takes the cake. Just when you think things can’t get worse or stranger they do. So that takes me to the title of this edition of my blog — A Rock, A Racoon and Red Wine. What do these 3 things have in common? And how do they lend themselves to the strangeness of 2020? Now if you don’t already know the story (and some of you close to me do) then hold on because this is one of those stories where you roll your eyes and say, “you just can’t make this stuff up!”

For those of you who know me, some find it hard to believe that I’m a bit shy. Type A at work but reserved in my personal life. I had always thought it would be a great idea to join a wine club, meet new people and enjoy a common interest, but was a bit timid about doing this alone. I can also admit that I was a bit hesitant to join a consumer club and not one filled with industry professionals. Finally I saw a club that seemed interesting with a line up of wines that looked awesome. This night’s line up featured a bunch of older vintages from one of Australia’s premiere wineries, Clarendon Hills. A relatively young winery founded in 1990, located in McLaren Vale, Clarendon Hills produces some of the region’s finest wines and was one of the first, if not the first to make a single vineyard bottling. This night’s tasting was a flight various 2010 bottlings including Grenaches, Syrahs and Cabernet Sauvignons — all very highly rated.

I arrived at the restaurant where we were seated outdoors in the back courtyard on a lovely summer night. The group was super nice and I was happy I had ventured out. We introduced ourselves since I was the newbie, gave our dinner order and then got started tasting. So here’s the RED WINE part of the tale. First wine was a bit over the hill, but the next 2 were tasting really well and I was getting excited to try the rest when…now hold on folks because the next part of the tale is well, hard to believe. What follows is the A ROCK and A RACCOON part of the tale.

All of a sudden, out of nowhere I get hit in the head, by a rock. Now this alone is crazy, but when you add the fact that the rock was shoved over a 6 foot wall onto my head by a raccoon now you have a story! Yes I was hit in the head by a 4-5 pound rock, shoved over a wall by a raccoon.

After the initial shock wore off and my head packed with ice, the restaurant’s hostess ran up behind the wall with an umbrella (as if this couldn’t get any more absurd) and tried to chase the raccoon away — since he was still peering over the wall surveying the damage he had done. I think he was just up there looking and thinking to himself — “Hey Lady, You Gonna Eat That?” Lucky for me it hit me on the top of my head and as anyone who knows me knows, I have a very hard head — part of the DNA from both mom and dad for sure! I let a few folks at home know what happened and all checked in on me and I spoke to a neighbor who was a nurse. Head’s still a bit sore, but what a tale I have to tell in the year when things just keep getting stranger and stranger. Yup, A Rock, A Raccoon and Red Wine — what a trio. I will go back to the next tasting with the group, this won’t dissuade me from doing so since what are the chances of this happening again ha!

Blackout, Cookout, Dine Out!

So Tropical Storm Isaias came and went and left quite the path of destruction in its wake. A blackout that lasted 4 days, so no tv, no radio, no lights, and the worst was a fridge and freezer filled with goods about to spoil. Living in the dark for an extended period of time with only cold water to shower and battery operated lanterns for light made me feel like I was camping in my own home. Now I’m not someone who likes to go camping. Anyone who knows me knows that I will avoid it at all costs. I think it started with the trauma of my folks sending me to Girl Scout Camp in 4th Grade and being forced to sleep in a tent and use a latrine. I went with a friend from my troop and when she called her folks, they picked her up but well, my parents told me to tough it out. Ha, I’d like to see either of them do this for 2 weeks, they’d be calling me to come get them. Call me soft, and I won’t argue! Or maybe it was in 8th grade when my school forced us to spend 10 days roughing it as part of the curriculum. Oh yeah they had their own facility in the mountains and a Searchers like program, but the day they dropped us off in the middle of nowhere with just a compass and told us to get to the base camp, I knew I was in trouble. Yuck, a 3 day hike was how it was to end, and my group hated it so much, we decided to do it in 2 days. I think this was the school’s way of laughing at us — take away our subway tokens (now I’m aging myself) and hairdryers (it was the 80’s folks) and put us in the middle of nowhere to tough it out. I won’t even talk about the food in any of these outings — no glamping here!

Not that there’s ever a good time for a storm and blackout but this one’s timing during a pandemic couldn’t have come at a worse time. Of course if you know me by now, my fridge and freezer were packed. Not only were they packed because as I’ve explained, it’s in my DNA handed down from grandparents to parents to me, but, because of Covid-19 I did not want to go out shopping as frequently. Panic set in, not just because at night my neighborhood was pitch black out, but because I was afraid I’d lose everything in the fridge and freezer. After the storm settled down and the skies cleared, I like everyone else in the complex started to grill. I live in the burbs in an apartment complex so thank goodness we all have grills. Nothing fancy, just hot dogs, and a chicken burger, but at least I had the grill — now what to do with all the rest of the food! The next morning I ran out super early and searched for coolers and as much ice as I could get. Score! Came home with both and packed the freezer with ice and hoped it would only be a day without electricity. Well no such luck, the power company had very little information but the rumor mill was that it could be as many as 5 days in the dark. I knew my ice would not hold out too long and luckily a friend came for the contents, took them home to her mom who had — now hold on, 3 freezers so she had room! A woman after my own heart, 3 freezers in her house, I knew my food would be in safe hands. The contents of the fridge, well that was another story. Sadly, and I mean sadly, most wound up in the trash. How horrible, in this time when food is in short supply due to the pandemic and folks are getting their from food pantries, I had to throw out food. What a waste but there was nothing else I could do — even the veggies were getting spoiled.

When I woke up the first morning without power, all I could think of was, coffee. Dilemma what would I do for coffee, I had no milk because I had to throw it out! Can’t live without coffee! Ok being melodramatic, but thank goodness down the hill they had power and good old Starbucks was up and brewing! I could tolerate the cold showers, but no coffee, that I could not tolerate! Now that the fridge was empty, the freezer bare, and the only way to charge my phone was in the car, the boredom started to set in. At least it is summer and I could be outdoors during the day, but at night, reading by camping light was not my idea of entertainment. I could have used the grill more for lunch and dinner, it would have worked for boiling water on it for pasta, or cooking eggs, if I had any, in a pan but I actually just didn’t want to. Besides I didn’t have much left in the fridge, so even with my still stocked pantry it was not easy to put a meal together. My complex became a ghost town with many fleeing to friends and relatives, because it was getting hotter outside and inside, so they left in search of electricity.

Night 2 a friend from the city surprised me and we had a lovely dinner outside by the Hudson River. Night 3 I got a call from one of the neighbors who suggested that we go out for dinner since she too had nothing left in her fridge, so we did. Maybe not the smartest move or best choice of dining because, the end result was heartburn on top of heartburn — who knew your heartburn could have heartburn, but you can trust me!

By day 4 this was getting old. I saw another neighbor who had stayed behind and we decided that we’d sit out on my patio and I’d grill what she had saved from her freezer. By the time I was ready to start, the electricity was back on and we were all happy again. Her saved steaks, sausages, were paired with grilled veggies a homemade chimichurri with my garden herbs, and of course wine! We celebrated the return to modernity with a feast.

Homemade chimichurri: combine 1/2 cup olive oil with 1/4 cup red wine vinegar (or more I like more vinegar) 1/4 tsp jalapeno minced (more if you like it spicy) some minced onion, maybe 2 tablespoons, and a blend of fresh parsley, oregano and I added a bit of mint, salt to taste. Chimichurri in my opinion has no formula! Every cook has her own tastes and things on hand so have fun with it, play with herb combinations. This makes 1 – 2 servings

Food and wine brings us together, I’ve said this many times. Sharing a meal, sharing stories around the table, these are some of life’s greatest pleasures. The food doesn’t have to be fancy. The wine doesn’t have to be the most expensive. It’s about the sharing, the caring, the nourishing of your belly and the nourishing of your soul.

Cooking for One Can be Fun

I’ve had a bit of writer’s block lately. Maybe it’s the slowness of the Summer. You know, those lazy days that kind of fry your brain and turn your thinking to mush. And since I’m not good at art projects, can’t focus enough to decide what to watch on Netflix other than 90-Day FiancĂ© and all the spin-offs, and have too much attention deficit for puzzles, I’ve turned to what I know, which is cooking. That’s been my creative outlet, and my outlet for all that pent-up energy from being home during this quarantine.

When I worked and lived in the City (New York City) I could barely be bothered cooking. If I wasn’t traveling, then I was out for dinner either for work or with friends. I was probably home 2-3 nights at most a week. If I was home, I usually bought prepared food from one of the great neighborhood places because — and I think I’ve said this before — it was cheaper to do that than buy all the ingredients to cook a meal. I know that sounds crazy but I would wind up throwing out so much because I never knew when I’d be home to use what was in the fridge. Now that we have all been home for months it’s been great watching on social media how many people have learned to love cooking!

So now to the title of my blog today — Cooking for One Can be Fun! Yes it can. How many times have you been told that it’s not enjoyable to cook for one person? How many times have you looked at a recipe and the recipe serves 4 or more? Where are the recipes for one? Why do portions not come in single serving units when you go to the supermarket? Hey, what about us single folks? We are people too, right? So I say yes, cooking for one can be fun. Who better to create something special for than yourself right? You deserve it, I deserve it. And if you make a little extra, well then you have leftovers or something to share with the neighbor. It’s ok! Cook for yourself, indulge, create, enjoy. Doesn’t have to be fancy, just use what you have on hand. Look up recipes, there are so many great apps like the NY Times Cooking app, or Epicurious, or Yummly or my blog FKDecanted. Go to them for inspiration. Go to them for guidance and create. Put good things in your belly, even the simplest meal can be yummy. So many of my friends have been asking me to start compiling the recipes I’ve been making, so going forward I am going to start incorporating recipes into my writing. And folks there will be recipes for 1 serving and sometimes for more! And well, if you want it for more you know what to do — double it, triple it … but let’s start with serving sizes for the single folks out there. Here are a few of my recent favorites that I’ve made for myself.

Ingredients for the Tuna Tartare: One 4-6 oz piece of piece of high quality tuna, cut into small dice. Marinate for about 30 minutes in the following: 4 Tbsp Soy, 1 Tbsp Mirin, 1 Tsp Rice Wine Vinegar, 1 Tsp Swad Ginger Paste, 1 Tsp Ponzu, and wasabi powder to taste.
Ingredients for the Cilantro Guacamole: 1 avocado smashed with a fork so that it’s almost smooth but has a bit of texture. 1 Tbsp Swad Cilantro Chutney, juice of 1 lime and about 1-2 Tbsp fresh cilantro chopped.
Assembly: Take a large pastry cutter, if you have one, or use a tumbler and start layering the guacamole and tuna tartare. If using the pastry cutter, place it on the plate and create your layers directly on your serving plate. If using the tumbler, then make your layers and gently invert onto a plate. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve with kettle style chips.
To drink: I liked my Hendricks Gin and Tonic but a wine choice should be something with good acid and fruit balance such as a Gruner Veltliner, Vinho Verde, Albarino, Torrontes and of course Sake.

Super fresh and easy, a quick Summer night’s meal made in 1 bowl!
Ingredients: 1 cup of dried egg noodles 1/2 cup spinach, 4 Tbsp Ricotta, 1 lemon zest only, handful of pine nuts.
Directions: Cook the egg noodles in boiling salted water. While that’s cooking, toast the pine nuts until lightly browned in a dry pan on the stove. In a large bowl — even the bowl you’ll eating from if you have a pasta bowl, add the ricotta, spinach a pinch of salt and pepper and mix together. Add the drained noodles directly into the bowl, the heat will wilt the spinach and top with the pine nuts and lemon zest. Season again a bit more. Even drizzle a bit of extra virgin olive oil over the top for a bit more texture. Serve immediately.
To Drink: I’d love an Orvieto or a good Pinot Grigio or even a glass of Falanghina. Acidity, floral and bright, these types of wines will go great with the freshness and creaminess of this dish.

Here’s a light summer lunch — simple in-season ingredients from the garden and farm.
Ingredients: 1 ripe tomato, 1/2 cup ricotta, 1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano, 1 garlic clove minced, 2 Tbsp chopped basil, 1 Tsp chopped fresh oregano, salt and pepper to season, extra virgin olive oil to drizzle.
Directions: Take the top off the tomato, and remove the pulp and seeds — save the pulp, drain the liquid. Drizzle tomato with olive oil, rub inside with salt and pepper set oven (or toaster oven) to 400 degrees. In a bowl mix the ricotta, parmigano, garlic, basil, oregano and the tomato pulp. Stuff the tomato with the ricotta mixture, and drizzle with the olive oil. Roast the stuffed tomato in the oven until it’s soft, but still holds it’s texture — too mushy and it will fall apart, you want to be able to cut into it. This might take about 20 minutes — but check!
To Drink: A light Pinot Grigio or even a Gavi would be a fantastic white pairing but you could also go red with a glass of Barbera or Dolcetto or even a Pinot Noir from Oregon — I’d serve them slightly chilled.

All of these meals are really simple and easy so why not go ahead and cook for yourself. And feel free to edit, tweak, modify, whatever makes you happy! Just get creative and get cooking. Like I said, you deserve it. Seasonal ingredients make your life simpler as does a well-stocked pantry. Also look at some of the on-line sites like Penzeys, or Kalustyans, or my favorite Spice Mountain from the UK, for cool international spices, rubs and chutneys. Open a nice bottle of wine — so many now come with screw caps so you can have a glass and put it back in the fridge. Or invest in a wine preservation system like the Coravin. Go ahead make a cocktail I won’t judge I would probably join you! Cooking for One Can be and SHOULD BE Fun!