Sunday, December 30, 2007

Florence Roberta Krakower Steinberg

When I was a child, my family made the trek from Ft. Wayne, Indiana to Cincinnati, Ohio at least once a month. The high point of the trip was eating at a tea room which was located at the halfway point in Eaton, Ohio. It was called Mrs. Wagner's. They were known far and wide for their corn fritters, which were served with hot syrup. Everyone in my family looked forward to eating in Mrs. Wagner's and devouring the corn fritters. I can’t even tell you what other food we ate there, but I will never forget the delicious, delectable corn fritters.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Jenn DiPiazza (aka The Leftover Queen)

My food memories are almost always tied to my family. Those big Italian affairs with lots of food, people and hugs. Loud voices speaking over loud voices and hands waving with intention and enthusiasm, knocking over glasses and punctuating sentences. Most of what I know about food and cooking has come from this family too. I am not the only Leftover Queen in my family, either. This much has been clear from the day I sat down and thought about where my food inspiration comes from. I was taught by a whole generation of Leftover Queens. In reality my love of leftovers comes from the resourcefulness of the older generation of my family – people who lived during The Great Depression and know what it is to get creative with what you have. These people were also Italian immigrants or children of Italian immigrants and therefore had the tenacity to make delicious creations from the bare bones. Everyone in my family of my grandparent’s generation had a garden. The garden was a place of great pride, a place where one could go and see the fruits of their labor, quite literally. It was the place that provided for and fed your family. It was a way of bringing a part of the Old Country to America with them, a little bit of security. One of the pictures that held a special place at the forefront of my grandmother’s dining room was of my Pap and his brother, my great uncle Sammy holding vegetables out in the garden. It was an old black and white picture and they were probably in their 40’s, two brothers proudly sharing their bounty.

When I was young, visiting my grandparents in Western Pennsylvania, if we went out to eat it was usually either to Santoni’s or the Italian hall. My grandparents lived in a very small town in the hills so there really wasn’t a lot of choice when it came to dining out. However, dining options were ethnically diverse – the small closely packed together towns were full of immigrant families from all over Europe. Of course, there were lots of Italians. But there were also Poles, French, Greeks and Germans -it was kind of like a much scaled down version of New York City – all different ethnic groups living in their own neighborhoods, close to one another, sharing the foods of their home countries – a cultural exchange.

Each of these immigrant groups had their “halls” - little gathering places where they served the foods of the various Mother countries, where people came to eat, relax and socialize. Whenever we went to the Italian hall or Santoni’s, one of the mom and pop Italian restaurants in town, my Pap would always order me Spumoni for dessert. Spumoni is an Italian Ice cream treat that originates in Naples. However as I have learned, most Italian immigrants to America have been from the South of Italy. Therefore, most of what we think of as “Italian food” in America is mostly Southern Italian cuisine that has been adapted to the American kitchen. Then these dishes are served in all the Italian restaurants with perhaps some regional favorites from the owner’s family. Spumoni is no different – it is Napoletan however, it can be found in many Italian restaurants all over the world. It usually is comprised of three different ice cream flavors – Pistachio, Chocolate and Strawberry that is swirled with maraschino cherries and pistachios and laced with rum. Many times it has layers of whipped cream as well. It is sweet and delicious – a symphony of flavors in the mouth.

I really had not thought about Spumoni for years. But I had it recently at a pizza restaurant run by Sicilians. Isn’t it amazing how a taste of something can bring you back to the past? One minute you are sitting enjoying a sweet treat at the end of a pizza and pasta dinner and in the next moment you are an eight year old child sitting in the Italian hall enjoying the same sweet treat with your Pap-Pap. Sometimes, it has been so long since you had that particular taste that you forgot that it even existed. In that same moment that you are tasting this long-forgotten delight, moments in your life you had also forgotten come flooding back – now full of emotion because they had been forgotten for so long you did not realize how much you missed those simple, wonderful moments. Food is a very powerful tool, not only does it bring back memories, it brings people together, teaches you about other parts of the world, expands your horizons and creativity and sustains and nourishes us. Ah, the power of food.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Beth Anne Moon

Home for the Holidays

I have so may food memories growing up with my grandmother and mother in the kitchen that it was hard to pick just one. Both were great cooks and even better bakers. During the December break of my freshman year in college, I came home to not so much to do. My mother and I decided to put her baking skills to the test … a gingerbread house from scratch. This was in the days before the internet - so our blueprint for success was nothing more than a 1/2 page spread in Ladies' Home Journal. Needless to say, it wasn't much help. My major at the time was English - not architecture. My mother's was in business. We did what any college educated person does when confronted with an unknown (at least I do) - we put our kindergarten skills to work - construction paper, crayons and scissors. After several days of cutting patterns, shaping and reshaping dough, baking and rebaking - we finally had the makings of an outer shell for the house - all held together with an icing type glue and prayer. The decorating was probably the most fun - at least not as frustrating as the construction part. We used Charlie Brown, Lucy and Snoopy cookie cutters for the people and animals. Green gumdrops and cinnamon sticks for the trees and bushes, white icing for the snow on the ground and roof, and red cinnamon hots for the chimney. It was a success. I'm sure glad we took a picture because no one would believe us. Not so sure this would be my mother’s favorite food memory as I have my father’s temper. But we did have a lot of fun doing it after all was said and done. My mother and father join us tomorrow for the holidays. Little does my mother know, I’m planning another one.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Jacquie O'Connor

My Italian mother did not teach me how to cook. She was too busy raising three wild kids and going part-time to night school in order to obtain her master's degree in Social Work. Actually, even if she did have the time, I am not really sure that she even knew how to cook. The most creative she got was pizza muffins. So I entered adulthood not even knowing how long it takes to boil an egg. I did OK for a while...I mean who needs to know how to cook in college? Just order a pizza and call it a day. And then I toured with Theatre IV for a few years and discovered the FABULOUS world of fast food! Then I decided to stop touring, live in Richmond and get an apartment. That's when the problems started. My cousin John and his wife Bonni had just moved to Richmond and I finally decided that it was time to invite them over for dinner (they had me over MANY times and it was just rude not to return the invite). I went to Ukrops, thinking that something would jump out at me. Well, something did...a pre-cooked lemon chicken by Perdue. I figured what could go wrong? And the best part is they would never know I didn't cook it! I cleaned the house, put the chicken in the oven, lit some candles and they arrived. It started out as a lovely evening. Wine, talk...we sat down to enjoy the first course (salad in a bag) and that's when the smoke detector went off. I wasn't too concerned at first. I remember saying to John and Bonni, "Don't worry there's no fire, the stove just smokes a lot and the detector was very sensitive." I went into the kitchen to check the chicken and was surprised to discover that there was no smoke coming from the stove. The detector was at the top of the stairs, so I looked up the staircase to see what the heck was going on. That's when I saw the flames coming from the bathroom. I ran up the stairs screaming "There is a fire, there is a fire!" I had lit one of those big candles with three wicks and somehow the wick had fallen through and because it was resting on a wicker basket on top of the toilet (yes, I was that dumb), it had immediately caught on fire. Now to make matters worse, my mother had given me this tacky bird display made entirely out of twigs, which just happened to be hanging over the toilet bowl above the candle (YES, I WAS THAT DUMB!) So needless to say, that was up in flames as well! I am staring at this and panicked...screaming to John..."GET SOME WATER!" (OK...I am in a I think to use the sink water, toilet water or shower water...NO!) Bonni is screaming "Should I call 911?" John comes running up the stairs with a pot of water, pushes me out of the way and tosses it. Then he adds more water from the sink and the fire goes out. It takes us 2 hours to clean up the mess at which point we are STARVING! I did have enough sense to turn off the chicken during this and so we all go downstairs to re-heat it and finally eat. It still looks good to me...moist. We sit down (covered in soot) and John and Bonni take the first bite. I wish I could have taken a picture of their faces. I take a bite. It is the worst thing I have ever put in my mouth. Total rubber and the lemon...well, it was horrible. We got to laughing so hard. I picked up the phone and ordered a pizza.

It was a very long time before I invited anyone over for dinner...and John and Bonni, I don't know why, but they keep turning me down when I invite them over for dinner.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Michelle Denise New

Sometimes the thought crosses my mind that maybe I spend too much time thinking about food. When I am at work, I think about what I am going to have for lunch. After lunch, I think about what I am going to have for dinner and what I should snack on in the meantime. After dinner, I think about what I could eat for lunch the next day. Is this an obsession? An addiction? I suppose there are worse things to be addicted to.

I feel very lucky to have grown up in a family that loves food and cooking. I have so many food memories. On Sunday mornings I would wake up to the smell of bacon wafting through the house. This was my dad's sure fire way to lure us out of bed. He would make scrambled eggs, or dippie eggs (for those of you that don't call them this, I think you might call them sun-side up), french toast, or pancakes. But there was always bacon! My dad also makes the best blue crabs I have ever eaten. I have tried to eat them out at bars or restaurants, but they always pale in comparison to my dad's. They are spicy and sweet, cooked in beer with old bay, cayenne pepper, vinegar, and celery. My dad has made us a bushel of crabs every summer for as long as I can remember. It really wouldn't be a good summer for me in Philadelphia or at the Jersey Shore without my dad's blue crabs.

My mom makes several comfort foods that I have just recently started learning how to replicate. My mom worked throughout my whole childhood, but we would still have several good meals each week. Time consuming meals were usually saved for Sunday dinner. Some of my favorites are my mom's beef stew, pot roast, roasted chicken, homemade gravies, pork and sauerkraut, and macaroni and cheese; I am salivating now as I type this. My grandmother is a terrible cook. My mom tells me of the horrible things she was forced to eat as a child and I am glad that my mom didn't inherit grandmom's cooking skills or odd tastes. Some of the meals my mom told me that she had to eat as a child were liver and onions, pepper pot soup with tripe, kidney stew, and canned vegetables. I think this might be the first time I have lost my appetite in a long time. Nah, its back. I'm starving.

About once a year, my family and I gather around the table and have beef fondue. Some people might shy away from this cooking method, since I wouldn't exactly call it a healthy meal. We sit around the table and fry top round or bottom round steak cubes in hot vegetable oil. FRIED BEEF! What could be better? We make a ketchup based dipping sauce and we serve no side dishes or appetizers or bread. This is just a simple meal of fried beef, and I love it.

If I am ever put on death row (hey anything could happen) it would be very difficult for me to pick a last meal. Is there a size limit? Is there a price limit? I think I would want a few of dad's blue crabs, a medium rare filet mignon, mashed potatos, a bowl of pork and sauerkraut, french fries, a juicy hamburger, a spicy tuna roll, fresh summer corn on the cob, macaroni and cheese, a couple of strips of bacon, a lobster tail, nacho chips with fresh salsa, buffalo wings, an italian hoagie and if I still have room, maybe a piece of cheesecake.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Bennett L. Ross

My most vivid food memory growing up is getting to make French Toast on the electric griddle. I got the basic recipe from an old cook book, but spiced it up with help from Grandma Grace (extra vanilla extract and cinnamon). I got to make the French Toast on a weekend or some other special occasion, and everyone usually enjoyed it (and the best part is that no one died after eating it). Mom gave me run of the kitchen and got me an apron that I always used when I was cooking. If this law thing doesn't work out, I figure I have a future at the Waffle House or Denny's.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Suzanne Speyer Rosenthall

I was excited when Jennifer told me about her new blog. I feel as if I’m constantly thinking about food and I love to talk about food with people. I have so many food memories and associations that stand out, I don’t think I can pick just one to share.

The most impressive meal I’ve had? Without question it would have to be my first meal at Matsuhisa in Beverly Hills. I agreed to accompany a family friend to dinner at a sushi restaurant he had wanted to try. As we were looking at the menu our sushi chef, Yoshi, asked if we had been there before. As we hadn’t, Yoshi suggested that he pick several dishes for us to try (omakase). How lovely. I was totally unprepared for the dining experience I was about to have. I thought we’d be getting the usual sushi and sashimi. Instead we were presented with small plate after small plate of beautiful, fresh, and absolutely divine tasting food. Some dishes were hot, some warm, and some cold. We had a salad with warm squid, ceviche, rock shrimp, yellowtail jalapeno, miso marinated black cod. We never knew what were going to get next but it didn’t take long for us to realize that we would not be disappointed with whatever it was that Yoshi proudly placed in front of us. Yoshi explained each dish to us and appeared to derive great satisfaction from our positive response to the food he presented to us. I called my husband after the meal and excitedly told him about it. The next night I went back to the non-descript, almost sleepy, restaurant by myself so I could experience more of the great food they had to offer. Yoshi encouraged me to try even more new dishes rather than repeat dishes that I loved the most from the previous night. The whole experience was so unexpected and so unlike any I had had before. Truly the most impressive meal I’ve ever had. See the menu at

Other food memories:

Strongest food/memory association from my childhood: The barbeque made David and Dit Zager, the late parents of my closest friend since childhood. David would put some pork ribs (short legged-beef, as he used to say), leg of lamb, and pork out on his Weber and smoke the meat for hours and hours. During this time Dit would have a pot of her home made Memphis style barbeque sauce simmering away on the stove. The pungent smell of vinegar greeted guests as they walked in the front door. I’d stand by the stove sniffing the air, salivating in anticipation of the meal to come. I’ve always preferred barbeque sandwiches to ribs simply because it is less work to eat! After the leg of lamb and pork was done, David would shred it, pulled-pork style, and I’d heap the pork or lamb on a bun, slather it in sauce, top it with cole slaw and dig in. When I was in college, Dit included some of the pulled lamb in a care package she sent down with a friend. When I moved away after college, the Zagers would always make some barbeque for me when I returned home for a visit. I always used to joke (okay, I wasn’t joking) with Dit, telling her that I wanted her to leave her secret recipe for the barbeque sauce to me in her will. Although she didn’t leave the recipe for me in her will, I have to say with much regret that I am now in possession of that recipe which Jill and Dana, Dit’s daughters, shared with me after Dit passed away. I make the sauce myself now, the smell of vinegar now filling the air of my home, but it isn’t quite the same.

Best food on the fly: After spending a semester in the Netherlands while I was in college, my older sister met me in Europe and we traveled around for about 3 weeks. We got some great chocolate in Belgium at Leonida’s ( which we enjoyed on the train on the way to Italy. When we arrived in Florence we came upon a vendor selling amazing fruit right outside of the train station. We bought a bunch of fresh strawberries and sat on a bench in the sun eating the warm, ripe berries with chocolate we still had left from the trip. During the same trip, we spent some time in France. In Dijon we bought some mustard, baguettes, pate, cheese, olives, cured meats, wine, and a “Coke Diet” for me and had a picnic dinner on our hotel bed. So good!

So this is what Lent is like: I gave up sushi made with raw fish during my pregnancies. A nice raw piece of fish is one of my favorite things to eat, so this was not an easy thing for me to do. Before I had our first child I told my husband, Sam, that I fully expected him to be standing there ready to hand me my favorite roll from my favorite sushi place in town (spicy tuna roll wrapped in avocado and topped with masago) the minute I pushed that baby out and the cord was cut. Alas, the circumstances of the delivery made it virtually impossible for Sam to go across town to get the sushi for me. When I was expecting our twins, I told my friends that I did NOT want visitors in the hospital after I delivered them. However I was more than happy to make and exception for my friend Helene and her husband when they called at 9:30 pm two or three days after I had the babies to say they were out for sushi and had a ton of leftovers and would I be interested in having them come by the hospital with the leftovers.

Who knew Diet Coke could be so good: The first summer that I was dating Sam we went on a camping trip together in Algonquin Park, a provincial park in Ontario way north of Toronto. The trip was four days and three nights of canoeing, portaging, sleeping in a teeny-tiny tent, going potty in the woods, and bathing in the same lakes we used as our source for drinking water. The trip was challenging, not a whole lot of fun, a lot of work, incredibly peaceful, beautiful and, at the end, totally rewarding. After 4 long days of drinking warmish lake water and eating freeze- dried food, we completed the trip and went to the park’s cafĂ© for a bite to eat and a cold drink. It was there that I had THE BEST Diet Coke of my life. It was cold, made even more so by the ice it cascaded over as it was poured. It fizzed and popped and tickled my nose. (Diet) Coke is it! Aaah.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Adam Rosenthall

I'm Adam, Alex and Jonathan's big brother (see previous post). I have food allergies. When I was about 18 months old I ate some hummus, which was delicious, but it made me really sick. I got hives all over my face where the hummus touched my skin and I threw up A LOT. My mommy took me to the pediatric allergist and they pricked me all over my back and arms to see what I was allergic to. It was not fun! My first set of skin testing showed positive reactions to a lot of foods (sesame, chick peas, peas, lentils, chicken, eggs, dairy, cod). When my mommy drove us home from the doctor after our first visit, she cried in the car.

This summer I had another bad reaction to food, this time it was salmon. My mommy and I tasted some lox at the grocery store and soon after I ate it, I started to cough a lot and my face got red and a few minutes later I threw up. My mommy had to give me a shot in the leg (ouch) and take me to the hospital. I had to go back to the doctor for more testing and now we know I'm also allergic to salmon, perch, and almonds.

This is hard for my mommy and daddy on many levels. Of course their primary concern is my health - they don't want anything bad to ever happen to me, and it really scares my mom to think that something as seemingly innocent as a snack at a friend's house could really, really hurt me. My mommy loves to cook and is a 'foodie' so it also makes her sad that I'll never be able to enjoy so many of the foods she and my daddy love to eat most like most Asian, Middle Eastern, and Indian cuisine. Before my mommy had me, she always thought she'd introduce her kids to all kinds of foods from an early age because she wanted to have children who were open to exploring different tastes and flavors and experiencing different cultures through food. My baby brothers are now considered high risk for food allergies so mommy and daddy will have to be especially careful with them as well.

My parents are trying to teach me about my food allergies without scaring me too much. I know I can't eat sesame so if I see sesame seeds or something that looks like sesame seeds I always tell a grown up that I'm allergic. I know other kids can eat nuts and peanuts but that I have to wait until I'm five before I can try these things.

Food for most people is something they strongly associate with happy memories of their childhood, their families, places they've visited. It is something that is life sustaining and necessary. It is something that often provides comfort and frequently brings people together. My mommy and daddy are hoping that food will be all of these things for me as well. But ultimately food, for me, will always have the shadow of a monster waiting to rear his ugly head.

Raise your awareness of food allergies - check out the Food Allergy * Anaphylaxis Network at

Jonathan and Alex Rosenthall

We turned eight months old yesterday and while we don't have a whole lot of experience with food, we do know what we like. Hands down our favorite food is milk. Not that disgusting formula stuff we see other kids get, but milk, the real stuff, and preferably straight from the source. Sometimes, after a long day at day care, it is hard for us to wait our turn to see mommy for a snack. We call her the 'breastaurant' and, lucky for us, it is always open (though sometimes, especially in the middle of the night, we don't always get service with a smile). Now that we are older we've gotten to taste some other stuff, too. We both love bananas, but really, who wouldn't? Everyone in our house including Simon, our pet rabbit, loves bananas. Apples and pears are good too. We draw the line at carrots, though. One of us (Alex) likes them just fine while the other (Jonathan) does not. A spoonful of carrots snuck in between spoons of something tasting usually ends up causing fussing and tears of protest. Next on the list? We thing we'd like to try squash!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Linda Sharon Ross Brenner

I grew up in a small, somewhat rural area with a mother who didn't like to cook and who saw the making of dinner each day an utter chore (feelings I now, as a mother myself, share.) My brothers and I therefore grew up eating the most pedestrian of foods - hamburgers, hot dogs, chinese out of a can, spaghetti, tacos, and the like. While occasionally we didn't like what was being served (lima beans and refried beans come to mind), we pretty much enjoyed everything Mom served. What did we know?

One of my most vivid food-related memories relates to my birthday. Each year, mom would make our favorite dinner. And each year, I'd ask for the same thing: meatloaf, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob. And I loved it. I think I loved best that I could dictate the dinner menu for just one night. To this day, I'm a sucker for meatloaf at almost any restaurant. But none are as good as mom's.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Paula Lelia Luther Russel

Paula grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, and associates most of her food memories with her mother, Anna May, who died when Paula was 16. In the refrigerator, Anna May kept a jar containing a mixture of flour, salt and shortening. This way, when she went to make a pie crust, all she had to do was add water and roll out the dough. One of Anna May's specialties was pies. One evening, a month after Anna May died, Paula found the jar in the back of the refrigerator. It just so happened that Anna May's best friend was coming to dinner, and so Paula baked a cherry pie. When Paula's sister, Pixie, tasted the pie she said "this tastes just like mom's!". Paula said "it is".

Anna Mae made Navy Beans every Monday, because Monday was wash day and navy beans, once in the pot, could cook all day, leaving time for household work. To make navy beans, buy dry beans and pick through them to remove any little stones or icky beans. Put them in a pot and cover with water. The next morning, rinse and drain. Return beans to pot with fresh water to cover them. Add a yellow onion (sliced or not) and a piece of ham hock (optional). Bring to a boil and turn down to a low simmer for at least 4 hours. Check occasionally to be sure the water is still covering the beans- and add more water if needed. Don't salt until the beans are done. Anna May served the beans with cornbread made from scratch.

Paula's father, Lee Bruce Luther, made Sunday morning breakfast for as far back as she can remember. He would make pancakes or fried mush. Sometimes he would make fried cheddar cheese by putting cheddar cheese into a hot skillet until it was brown. Paula told me that she saw her father smile once, but she can't remember why he smiled.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Thomas Gilbert Russel

When Tom was 7 or 8 years old, his family lived in Westbrook Park, a Veteran's row house community outside of Philadelphia. For breakfast and lunch on Saturday (and sometimes Sunday, too), his parents made Trenton Cracker stew. Take Trenton Crackers, cover them with water and boil them until they start falling apart (1/2 hour or more). Then drain off the water and replace it with milk, butter, salt and pepper. Sometimes they ate it with scrapple. It's a common food memory for Tom as it was a ritual in his childhood home. Tom was reading David Baldacci's The Collectors when I shot this picture, and had just flipped a page which is why you can see his eyes. He doesn't like to be in the spotlight, so I took his picture just as he was.