Monday, October 19, 2009

Caribbean cooking

Tonight was macaroni pie.

It's a meal my mother served me and my family. She and my dad spent 25 years going back and forth from Barbados. It's a place they consider another home. They have stories of beach lunches with the families of friends, of buffets and of restaurant meals where macaroni pie was a side dish.

Hot sauce was a requirement.

When I cook pasta it's with sauce, veggies and several forms of cheese. That's my simple and happy meal, a quick and aromatic dinner every one will eat.

Macaroni pie is only slightly more complicated. To make it authentic, you need long tubes of pasta. It would work with any kind of pasta, I suppose, but you want the tubes.

I found my recipe on-line at It's your basic mac-and-cheese recipe. The noodles make the difference. Make sure you have enough bread crumbs to top it and extra cheese for the surface.

Kids are going to want the gooey stuff. They don't care that the milk, egg and cheese are healthy. They want cheese.

I made a butter lettuce and mandarin orange salad.

Again, I cook for comfort. I need warm. I need easy. I need an easy combination of tastes and textures that the pickiest eater will approve. That's what moms do, right?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Family ties

I haven't really written about Thanksgiving because, let's face it, we all had turkey. Mom was in the kitchen making gravy with Kate, the turkey was hacked with an electric carving knife, the children had gravy dripping down their oily chins.

My house, your house. They're all the same.

The old folks were too sedate to get a good fight started. I was too tired to take offence at much. It's a family meal! Let's say the blessing and let the bones fall where they will!

What set me off Sunday was the table setting. I've inherited my mother's china and most of her linens. She needs little of her treasures in the assisted living place we've both taken to calling the Departure Lounge (after the book of the same name).

When she comes over, I try to use some of her stuff, never sure if she'll notice what I've done. I reached into the linen closet, which always looks like monkeys have put things away according to smell, and pulled out her fall table cloth.

It's woven in strands of orange and yellow and has at least 12 matching napkins.

There was a time when I would have had napkin rings that were perfect accompaniments but those days, thank the Lord, are gone. I pulled out the cloth and the napkins and felt as though I'd been punched in the stomach.

I missed my mother desperately. She's still alive but I was mourning. There is something wrong, something profoundly sad, about using items you have inherited when the original owner is still there. Maybe I'm fearing the next step.

Her teak dining room table (sold for a pittance when we cleaned out the house) was oval. Her table clothes are too. Ours is an ugly square EQ3 table, most often decorated with mismatched plastic place mats. My stepkids are all in their mid to upper teens. I still set the table as though they eat with their fingers.

(Because sometimes they do).

She noticed. She ran her gnarled hands over the fabric, mused on having bought it in Florida years ago, knew how much she paid.

My father noticed nothing.

His stroke stole so much from all of us. We piece together family routines and traditions, cook the meals we remember and take photos at the table. But it's the wrong table in the wrong house with a cast of characters so changed as to be foreign.

This is someone else's life. These are someone else's recipes.

I long to get on an airplane, to fly anywhere, to eat in neighbourhood bistros and to send back postcards to the people I remember and mourn.

Monday, October 12, 2009

White House cole slaw

I've had a request for Authentic White House Cole Slaw, the White House in question having been a restaurant on Selkirk Avenue. My mother thanks Maxine Geller for the recipe.

I have no idea who Mrs. Geller is but I'll thank her too.

2 tbsp sugar

1/2 TSP sugar

2/3 cup Heinz vinegar

1/3 cup oil

4 cloves crushed garlic ... may use much more

Pour over grated cabbage and carrots and diced green onions and let sit all day or longer.

No, What We Ate at 4 Teakwood does not tell one how much cabbage or carrots. As we have previously discussed, my mother's recipe book is a guideline. You want precise, pick up The Joy of Cooking.

I've never been much on cabbage. My Thanksgiving cabbage rolls (made with soy meat, white rice and sauteed onions) were pretty good if you overlooked the fact that they were giant misshapen "rolls".

At the last minute I thought I'd cook Brussels sprouts yesterday even though they remind me of George Bush. And even thought you just have to say "Brussels sprouts" and people squinch up their noses.

I took a bunch of Brussels sprouts, sliced them thinly and sauteed them with olive oil and white wine. They came off the stove in 5 or so minutes. I kept them covered in foil until dinner was served. I don't think there were any converts but I liked them well enough.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cabbage rolls -- Sheesh!

I just made cabbage rolls for the first time. I've burned the fingerprint off my right thumb. The "rolls" are gigantic. Some of them are square. This is not my finest hour.

And who has tomato soup in their pantry? I used crushed tomatoes. I think that will be the least of my problems.

When mom shows up for Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow night she's going to have some 'splaining to do.

Should I be worried that the turkey looks more like a hefty chicken? And that I'm having 11 people for dinner?

Friday, October 9, 2009



I love champagne in the same way dogs love stew bones. There is the shiver-inducing pop of the cork, the rapid spill of the wine over the lip of the bottle, the hurry of glasses to capture the fizz. Thlock!

Oh my, a girl blushes.

It might be the cheapest of choices, the sort of wine that can only use "champagne" with the lower case "c". It might be the tender yet insistent pull of Vieux Clicquot, the yeasty bubbles bursting forth with promise and celebration.

Oh, my. Call a party and I'm there.

has a series of courses for the enthusiastic yet non-professional drinker. I'll be taking the Champagne course ($45 a person) on December 3. (

It's fun, I'm taking it with a friend who shares my love for bubbly and it's the perfect pre-Christmas treat.

There was no champagne at 4 Teakwood, at least not when the kids were awake. But I have always loved the stuff for the sense of possibility and celebration. When my daughter and I were in Paris three years ago we made our way to Bar Hemingway at the Ritz.

The bathrooms had gold swans in the sinks. Colin, the bartender, is a legend. Johnny Depp allegedly drank there, just not on the nights we were in town.

Colin created -- because that's the only correct word -- champagne cocktails for the ladies. They came with a perfect red rose slid down the flute, a couple or three ounces of excellent champagne and some other nectar of the gods.

We met a man the first night, an American, who was in Paris on some dreary business or another.

But his interest, his calling card, was a collection of lucite and other rings. He carried them in his jacket in much the same way as a thief would a set of watches.

I admired his pink plastic pinky ring. He opened his jacket.

For Colin, there was a wonderful ring that flashed colors when he struck his hand on the bar. That went on the shelf where the other devotees had left tributes.

For Kate, a lovely pink flower for innocence. For me? I chose a large ring, black and imbedded with what looked like diamonds. Every time I wear it I hope someone asks me where I got it.

"From a man in the Bar Hemingway in Paris," I'll shrug. "We had champagne cocktails. At the Ritz."

No one has asked.

From the priceof the MLCC tasting, I assume we're popping the good stuff. If there's a Baby Duck in sight I want a refund.

If there's a ring and a Colin it will be money well spent.


It was in Israel that I began to appreciate the appeal of outdoor markets. They're places where people gather to gossip, to buy spices, to squeeze the fruit and to carefully select the best bread.

It's a necessary ritual, repeated daily for some people. For me, it is the combination of the smells and the colors that was intoxicating. From one vendor, a fresh pretzel. From another, a freshly brewed cup of tea. If there is fear in this vibrant country you don't see it in the markets of Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

This was also the home of some of the most exquisite food I have ever eaten. There was the roadside falafel stand where people lined up to spend $1.50 for fresh hot falafels layered with sour cabbage and onions and sauce. There was the Tishbi winery where a wine tasting was accompanied by platters of cheese, fruit, bread .. our group fell upon it like hungry wolves.

When you're on a press trip you eat around the clock. In some countries (hello China and your yak tongue!) you might want to skip a meal if it's not too impolite. In Israel, the days began with huge hotel breakfasts, all observing the rules of kashrut (there was dairy but no meat). We filled our plates and went back for seconds. I waddled off the plane when we flew home.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bread and honey

My editor asked me if I could provide a simple bread recipe. In a word: No.

What We Ate at 4 Teakwood doesn't believe in easy. It doesn't even necessarily believe in giving both the oven temperature and the cooking time in the same recipe. My mother was an instinctive cook. Most of her recipes were in her head, dishes she'd cooked a hundred times without really thinking about it.

Others were from a cookbook her Scottish mother-in-law gave her nearly 60 years ago. She still has it.

What We Ate was such an act of love because she actually sat down and attached measurements and ingredient lists to what she cooked automatically. She also taught me that your taste buds are the best judges, that fresh herbs are superior to dry and that a glass of wine makes most things, if not better, at least forgivable.

Here's Gloria's recipe for Flower Pot Bread.:

4 cups milk, scalded
6 T sugar (or honey)
6 T shortening (I use margarine)
6 tsp salt
2 cups warm water
4 tsp sugar
4 envelopes dry yeast
12 cups flour (9 wholewheat, 3 white)

Scald milk, add 6 T sugar, the salt and shortening. Dissolve 4 tsp sugar in warm water and add yeast. Let stand 10 minutes, add to other liquids. Stir in 9 cups flour, beat well.* Add remaining flour (this is a sticky dough).

Cover and let rise 40-60 minutes, until double in bulk.** Turn out on floured board, knead lightly. Divide into 6 equal parts. Place in well-greased flower pots (you read that right). Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled (40 to 60 minutes). Bake in 375 degree oven for approximately 40 minutes with double thickness of foil wrap under each pot.

Turn out and cool.

To prepare pots (six, about 5 x 5), wash new clay pots well, dry and grease them with shortening, then bake them empty in 375 degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes. Grease again and reheat ... repeat once more. Now you're ready!

* Or you can do what I do and toss the dough into the Cuisinart, using the pastry hook.

** Is there anything more satisfying? You take a few ingredients, you let them sit and the house starts to smell wonderful. It's like being an alchemist.

Are you going to make Flower Pot Bread on a regular basis? Of course not. But it wows kids. I loved to see it come out of the oven and so did my daughter and her cousins. Grandma's a magician! And her house smells great too!

The flower pots became mine when my parents sold their house this summer. My kids are too old to amaze and I really hope the grandkids are some time off.