Welcome to My New Food Blog

Warning: Not for the faint of heart.

Welcome to a food blog that is born out of loss. In it, I will cook my way through grief. My name is Becca. On May 19th, 2018 my best friend Abby died unexpectedly leaving me forever changed. This blog is a creative solo exercise in honoring her memory and healing my way forward through the comfort of a kitchen, a physical space where I feel comfortable and happy. I am a home cook with a knack for finding exceptional recipes. The kitchen I will post from is in a studio apartment I leased for one year starting in June 2019 until May 2020. I do not live there. I cook and contemplate there.

I have chosen 12 cookbooks from my library. I will cook and bake my way through as many recipes as possible each month. The catch: each post will be a first trial recipe. Like life…no practice run. The idea is to begin with the books I have collected over the years but never had the time to seriously explore and learn. And what also occurred to me in this grief process is the importance of practicing presence. I don’t need anything more than a beginner’s mind and an open heart. That feels like an authentic launching point. Abby would be pleased. Here I go. Let’s get cooking!

  • June: My Berlin Kitchen by Luisa Weiss
  • July: Purple Citrus Sweet Perfume by Silvena Rowe
  • August: Tassajara Bread Book by Edward Espe Brown
  • September: 660 Curries by Raghaven Iyer
  • October: Market Cooking David Tanis
  • November: Pie and Pastry Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum
  • December: Eat by Nigel Slater
  • January: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
  • February: Truly Mexican by Roberto Santibanez
  • March: Ottolenghi
  • April: Salt Fat Acid Heat by Samin Nosrat
  • May: Community Together

Month of January: "Essentials of Classical Italian Cooking" Recipe: Potato Gnocchi and Tomato Sauce with Onion

“The explanation is that I consider cooking to be an act of love. I do enjoy the craft of cooking, of course, otherwise I would not have done so much of it, but that is a very small part of the pleasure it brings me. What I love is to cook for someone. To put a freshly made meal on the table, even if it is something very plain and simple as long as it tastes good and is not a ready-to-eat something bought at the store, is a sincere expression of affection, it is an act of binding intimacy directed at whoever has a welcome place in your heart. And while other passions in your life may at some point begin to bank their fires, the shared happiness of good homemade food can last as long as we do.”
― Marcella Hazen

This quote sums up the biggest gift my family of origin gave me that I treasure to this day. Cooking and baking was an act of love. For this I am eternally grateful and daily satisfied (as well as everyone who lives with me.)

Potato Gnocchi

Ingredients: 1.5 pounds boiling potatoes, 1.5 cups all purpose flour

Boil potatoes in their skins in a large pot of water until tender. Remove, cool and peel. Puree through a food mill into a pile on your working space. Add flour and work the flour into the potato until soft and smooth but slightly sticky. Flour work space, cut dough in half and form into 1 inch snakes with your hands while rolling the dough back and forth. Cut into 3/4 inch pieces. Here is the trickiest part; shaping the gnocchi. For this I am just going to advise you to watch a video online. It’s just too hard to explain! Boil at least 4-6 quarts of water, add salt and then throw in 2-3 gnocchi to test. Once they float to the top it takes about 10-15 seconds to cook. Drain with slotted spoon to a bowl and continue until completed. (I won’t kid you gnocchis are tricky but I am quite pleased with my first try!!)

Tomato Sauce with Onion

Ingredients: 2 cups Italian plum tomatoes with juices, 1/2 onion, peeled and cut in half, 5 tablespoons of butter.

Put all ingredients in a pan and cook for 45 minutes on a low simmer. Discard onion after cooking and add salt to taste. I used the food mill and my home made canned tomatoes to make a smoother sauce. It was easy and delicious.

Add parmesan cheese and be prepared for a lotta love.

Month of January: "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" Recipe: Minestrone alla Romagnola

“Our doubts are traitors.” William Shakespeare

Last night as the meat broth was chilling and forming a rising layer of fat, I learned something vitally important about my relationship with my mother. I realized that in order for her to keep me perpetually emotionally close (out of her own fear of being alone), she baked me with self doubt….for as far back as I can remember. How my brain responded to that was with confusion, anger, anxiety and panic. Empathy for her early injuries kept me in the ring. Her pain somehow seemed greater and more tragic than mine, her losses unthinkable. However, at some point it became necessary (the grief of Abby’s death?) to choose an authentic life of my own. I needed to distance myself from my parents’ stories and look deeply at my own. It’s not just feeling the feels but recognizing and labeling the dance between us so that I can unlearn the learned reactions into a response that works for me. It really is like walking on a razor’s edge. To understand my reality has been to straddle ambiguity.

KA-BOOM!!!!

“Doubt can only be removed by action.” Goethe

Ingredients: 1 pound zucchini, 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 3 tablespoons butter, 1 cup onion thinly sliced, 1 cup diced carrots, 1 cup diced celery, 2 cups peeled and diced potatoes, 1/4 pound diced fresh green beans, 3 cups shredded cabbage, 1.5 cups cannellini beans, 6 cups homemade meat broth, 2/3 cup canned Italian plum tomatoes with juice, salt, 1/3 cup parmigianno-reggiano cheese

Soak the zucchini in a large bowl of cold water for at least 20 minutes and then rinse clean. Apparently zucchini is thin skinned and soil easily penetrates it. Trim both ends and dice. Put butter and oil in a large stockpot and heat to medium low. Cook onion until pale gold. Add the diced carrots and cook 2 minutes. Then add celery and cook for another 2 minutes. Add potatoes and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the green beans, cook 2 minutes, add the zucchini, cook for a few minutes, add shredded cabbage and cook for 5-6 minutes. Add the broth and tomatoes and salt and cook at a slow steady simmer for 2.5 hours. Lastly add cannellini beans and cook for another half hour. The soup should be fairly dense, never thin and watery. When the soup is done, just before you turn off the heat, swirl in grated cheese and taste for salt.

Month of January: "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking" Recipe: Basic Homemade Meat Broth"

“The child lay dead between the ripples of the river but the woman rose up from that bed of suffering.” Louisa May Alcott

Well, it’s been a real adventure to get to this new year. Since my last post I have received a new stove in the studio as the ratty old one was leaking a substantial amount of gas. I had been smelling sulfur and getting mild headaches since the closing of the windows. My landlord didn’t smell anything. My husband didn’t smell anything. Ironically, I learned from the gas company representative that 80% of all calls originate with women who typically tend to smell gas more than men. Another lesson learned: no more doubting myself and I am alone to figure this out. Anyway, now I have a brand spanking new stove AND a new attitude to boot.

This month we are going to explore Italian cooking. This book is considered a classic and Marcella Hazen has introduced Italian food to Americans in a similar way that Julia Child brought us French cooking. The first post will be from the fundamental chapter where I have made a real broth. You know, like the kind our mothers and grandmothers used to make. Substantial yet light bodied . It is a base for soups, risotto, as well as braising meats and vegetables.

The word fundamental struck me so I googled the precise meaning. It means to “form a necessary base or core” and is “of central importance.” Putting that in personal terms, I feel a regret (those damn regrets!!) that somehow the message of how to form a grounded core of my own wasn’t transmitted or valued in my early development. To be part of a family or group; yes. But to be an individual…not so clear. I am finally ready to take those steps at the ripe old age of 56. It appears to be my time. If we are to master any craft at all, we must start with the principles.

So in Italian cooking we have components within the fundamentals. They are: anchovies, balsamic vinegar, basil, bay leaves, beans, bottarga (roe of a fish), bread crumbs, broth (above), capers, fontina, garlic (of course),marjoram, mortadella (luncheon meat), buffalo milk mozzarella, nutmeg, extra virgin olive oil, olives, oregano, pancetta, parmesan, flat leaf parsley, pasta, black pepper, dried porcini mushrooms, prosciutto, radicchio, rice, ricotta, romano cheese, sage, tomatoes (duh), truffles, tuna, veal, bechamel sauce, mayonnaise, salsa verde, warm red sauce, horseradish sauce and a peppery sauce for boiled meats and roasted birds.

Phew! Quite a list. I am ready.

Ingredients: salt, 1 carrot peeled, 1 medium onion, 1 or 2 stalks celery, 1/4 to 1/2 red or yellow pepper cored and seeded, 1 small potato peeled, 1 fresh ripe tomato or a canned Italian plum tomato drained, 5 pounds of assorted beef or veal of which no more than 2 pounds may be bone.

Put all the ingredients in a stock pot and add enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil and as soon as the liquid starts to boil, reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 3 hours. Skim off the scum that floats to the service, abundantly at first, then gradually tapering off. Strain through a large wire strainer. Cool and refrigerate overnight. In morning, scrape off solidified fat and discard. Use within 3 days or freeze for later use.

Month of December: "Eat" Recipe: Roast Chicken Pho (in a bowl)

“We are all travelers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend.” Robert Louis Stevenson

I talked about Abby yesterday. I talked about how safe I felt with her and wondered what it was about her that brought out that elusive feeling within me. I discovered it was honesty.

Abby was genuine. Never have I ever come across another soul who was so willing to be real about themselves. I absolutely loved that about her and I absolutely miss that about her. It is a rare find in this world and I realize more and more just how damn lucky I was to stumble upon her on a tree planting site in no man’s land Texas all those years ago. Funny, how clear it all becomes in time.

ingredients: chicken thighs, rice noodles, dark soy sauce, honey, fish sauce, mirin, ginger, lime juice, star anise, chicken stock, chile, greens

Mix a tablespoon of dark soy sauce with a tablespoon of honey, a tablespoon of fish sauce and mirin and a chopped red chile. Pour into a small roasting pan, add 4 chicken thighs and turn them over in the mixture until lightly coated. Roast in an oven heated to 400F for about 25-30 minutes, occasionally turning the thighs over in sauce until dark and sticky. In a saucepan, heat 3.5 cups of chicken stock with 6 coin sized slices of fresh ginger, 2 tablespoons of lime juice and 3 star anise. As it approaches a boil, add a small handful of shredded greens or chard, leaving them to cook for only a minute or two. Put 3.5 ounces of wide rice noodles in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Leave them to soak for a couple of minutes until they are soft and silky. Drain the noodles and divide between the 2 deep bowls. Slice the chicken from the bones, and add to the noodles together with the greens, then ladle the stock on top.

“Being honest might not get you a lot of friends but it’ll always get you the right ones.” John Lennon

Month of December: "Eat" Recipe: Sausage balls with mustard cream sauce (in the frying pan)

“Now near the Winter Solstice it is good to light candles. All the nice meanings of bringing light to the world can be beautiful. But perhaps we are concentrating on lighting the world because we don’t know how to light up our own lives.” Ralph Levy

Welcome to the longest night of the year with only 9 hours and 15 minutes of light! I walked around the city streets today taking in the low angles of the sun and thought about my life in this moment.

I took a big leap of faith and responded to a situation that has been heartbreakingly difficult for many years. That decision was to surrender. That decision was to walk away from the impossible. It felt so liberating and empowering! But tonight as the darkness settles, I feel frightened. My chest feels tight with twinges of pain and the worry is closing in. Obviously for me it isn’t easy to discard the old and embrace the new. I resist. Even though something is not healthy for me; if it is familiar, it is oddly comforting.

Yet, I am ready. Ready to listen to myself. Ready to respond instead of react. Ready to find my inner spontaneity again. Ready to find my footing. Ready to find my light.

Ingredients: sausage, beef stock, heavy cream, Dijon mustard, chives

Remove the casings from 1 pound of sausage and roll the meat into about 24 golf sized balls. Warm a little oil in a non stick frying pan and cook the balls until they are evenly browned. Pour off the excess fat and pour in 2 cups of beef broth. Bring to a boil, allow to reduce slightly and then pour in 1 cup of cream and stir in 1 tablespoon of mustard. Season. Cook for about 15-20 minutes. Remove the balls to warm bowls, then turn up the sauce to heat well. Sauce will not thicken. Pour over the balls and serve with a fork and a spoon. Top with a few chopped chives. I served it with cubes of boiled squash.

Month of December: "Eat" by Nigel Slater. Recipe: Lentil Bolognaise (on the stove)

“How can I begin anything new with all of yesterday in me?” Leonard Cohen

Long deep breath! It’s been way too long since I have been at the studio! Since my last post of Brioche before Thanksgiving my husband had been hospitalized that day for a large blood clot that damaged a kidney. He is still recovering from that injury. It is not certain what this means for him or for us. Needless to say, it has been and continues to be a very stressful time. Today, when I woke up I decided that this day was for me and no one else. As soon as I crossed the threshold into my own private space I could feel my spirit expand.

I am realizing, rather quickly, that if I don’t take care of myself regularly, there will be little to no self left. I shouldn’t feel guilty for having needs during a crisis. I shouldn’t feel “selfish” for acting on those needs. But somehow I do and those feelings are roadblocks to first recognize those needs and secondly to act upon them. Abby would understand. She was the same. But as they say…change starts with awareness and to that cliche I stick out my tongue.

So here we now are in December. I have chosen a tiny cookbook by Nigel Slater, a rather famous British cook and writer whose popular “Ripe” and “Tender” are just about my most beloved books. I highly recommend them to anyone who loves to cook and appreciates delicious photos of fruits and vegetables on thick matte paper. They literally are works of art. This book is called “eat” (the little book of fast food) and it is divided into interesting categories such as ” in the hand”, “in the frying pan” or “in the wok”. Today I have chosen from the category “on the stove” for a warming pasta dish on a cold winters day in the charming neighborhood of the arts in a northern city on the southern shore of Lake Ontario.

It’s good to be back.

Ingredients: Puy lentils, carrots, onion, olive oil, vegetable stock, creme fraiche, balsamic vinegar, pappardelle (or any ribbon pasta, I used tagliatelle)

Finely dice 2 carrots and 1 onion. Saute in 3 tablespoons olive oil for about 15 minutes until onions are golden and carrots lightly browned. Add 1 cup of lentils with 4 cups of vegetable stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook for about 25-40 minutes until lentils are soft. Season to taste. Put a large pan of water to boil for the pasta and salt generously. Cook until al dente. While the pasta cooks, remove half the lentils and their liquid and process coarsely in a food processor or blender. Return to pan and stir. Mix in 2 tablespoons of creme fraiche and 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and check for seasoning. Bring almost to a boil. Drain the pasta, divide among warm bowls, then spoon over the lentil ragu. Serves 4. Earthy, frugal and filling.