Puppy Love

Back in 2007, there seemed to be some sort of fever sweeping through my friend group: everyone was adopting dogs. I couldn’t understand it. Why? All of our youngest children were finally starting school. We would have a moment to ourselves. Why would you bring another dependent into the house? A dog is a toddler that never grows up, I said. A dog will never be able to feed itself, I said. It will need walks, it will need grooming, medical care, it will bark, it will chew your shoes, it will pee in the house, it will steal food from the table…

You get the picture – I was not a fan.

My kids and my husband begged me, “Please, can we have a dog?”

Now, many people want to let others down gently. When they don’t want to say “no,” they say things like, “let me think about it” or “we’ll see.”

My response was unambiguous, “Over my dead body.”

Then, one day in the early summer of 2007, a strange thing happened.

My sister, Diana, and I were on the upper east side of Manhattan and passed the window of a pet shop. The most adorable puppies were in the window. And, yes, even I thought they were adorable because all puppies are adorable and I am only human.

Diana said, “Let’s go in…just to look.”

We browsed around. They had puppies and kittens, all looking cuddly and lovable, and heartbreaking in their tiny cages.

For reasons that remain unclear, I started asking questions:

Me: Do you have goldendoodles? My family has allergies.

Salesman: No, we only have purebreds here.

Me: What kind of purebreds are hypoallergenic?

Salesman: Why don’t I show you?

Never trust anyone who answers a question with a question.

The salesman went to an unseeable room in the store and returned with two tiny shitzu pups. One was the color of toasted marshmallows (which I love), and one was black and white like an Oreo cookie (which I also love). I have a sweet tooth. What can I say?

Without a word, he held them out to me. And without a thought, I took them.

That’s when it happened. It came without warning, I didn’t feel a tickle in my throat, or body aches of any kind. Nonetheless, I caught the fever.

The marshmallow was wriggling and squirming. The Oreo was totally zen. I handed the marshmallow back to the salesman and focused on the black and white fur ball that was now cradled in my arms. Like a seasoned pro, it nuzzled its little head under my chin. I was done for.

When I brought her home, my family must have thought I’d lost my mind, and I’ve never seen so much happiness stem from another person’s perceived dementia. After much debate, we named her Fluffy and she has been a beloved part of the family ever since.

After 13 years, Fluffy still can’t feed herself or walk herself, but she has never chewed our shoes (although she went through a period where she’d gather them like a nest around herself). She doesn’t bark. She doesn’t pee in the house. She doesn’t steal food from the table. Turns out, I’d been around some horribly “trained” dogs. She is nothing like them. She is my sweet, well-behaved little toddler that has never grown up and I could love her more. I have never recovered from the fever, and I never want to.

For Fluffy’s 13th birthday, I’ll show you how I baked her favorite treats. That’s love!

Mother’s Day Special

She loved you, held your hair back when you were sick, comforted you through break ups…no, not your college roommate. I’m talking about your mother!

This Mother’s Day will be like no other. I won’t be with my kids. I won’t be with my own mother. Yes, we call and we FaceTime, but that’s hardly a substitute for being in the same room together (which hasn’t happened for over three months now).

This pandemic has taught us many lessons, particularly that nothing is certain. So, I hope you’ll make a special effort to let your mother know what she really means to you. Some people are uncomfortable expressing their emotions. I should know because I am one of them. I tell my husband that he’s the luckiest man in the world because he married a woman who doesn’t like to shop and doesn’t like to talk about her feelings. But, set that discomfort aside and tell her what she means to you and why.

That said, I’d like to share just a few of my memories about my mother and why I appreciate her so much.

Misty

When I was five-years-old, out of the blue, my mother brought a little gray kitten home. This is one of the few times I remember her being spontaneous. She saw it, all alone by a garbage can, and decided to give it a home. I could not believe my eyes. Neither could my father when he came home from work. Misty, the name we gave him two seconds after meeting him, could not stay, my father said. Well, this was a pretty smart kitten, because when my father sat down to read the evening paper, Misty mewed at his feet until dad picked him up. It was that easy. We kept Misty and loved him until the end of his days. And I loved my mother for taking the chance on bringing him to us.

Hostess With The Most-ess

Some of my favorite childhood memories revolve around one holiday or another. It seemed like my mother was the designated hostess for most of them. She did Christmas, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day…you name it. Everyone would gather from our very large extended family. The food was amazing and my grandfather’s homemade wine would flow. When it wasn’t an official holiday, our house was still party central, especially in the summer. Since we had a swimming pool, we had a constant stream of guests during hot weather months, with barbecues every night. I loved those times. Everyone hung out, everyone was welcomed. Now that I’ve followed in her footsteps, I’ve come to realize what went into all those affairs and appreciate her even more.

Playing Hooky

There is a hazy memory in the back of my mind, when my mother took me to a pediatrician appointment and then, rather than bringing me back to school, we went to a movie. Such lawlessness was not her style, which made it all the more fun.

And speaking of the pediatrician…

After weeks of begging, badgering and cajoling, my mother finally agreed to take my sister and me to the pediatrician to have our ears pierced. That’s where you had it done in those days, unless you had a friend you trusted to poke you with a sewing needle (we did not). My sister, Diana, went first. One, two, three and it was done. Then it was my turn. Nothing to it. Then Dr. Laquadera turned to my mother, “What do you say, Alice? Are you game?”

My mother blanched, “Oh, no. I couldn’t!”

My sister and I started pleading with her to go for it. The doctor helped us egg her along. And that became the day we all had our ears pierced together. Just us girls.

Becoming a Mother

When I gave birth to my first child, I was bound and determined to breastfeed. “What could be more natural?” I thought. I’d read all the books. I listened to my friends extols the virtues of their lactation consultants (which, to be honest, still makes me roll my eyes). So when the time came, I felt ready and informed. My son, however, had other ideas. He was not on board. He would not latch on. My mother was in the hospital room with me and could see I was growing frustrated – which, by the way, all the books said not to do. Like you can control that. The floor nurse strolled in, for one reason or another, and started trying to coach me. At one point, she actually roughly grabbed my nipple and tried to force my son to take it. He started to cry, as did I.

My mother stepped in, dismissing the nurse. “We’ll take it from here,” she said, lifting my son into her arms and rocking him.

After we had both calmed down, she handed him back to me and said, “Just let him find it.”

Eureka! Success! Mother does know best.

Tattoo Parlor

When a daughter is determined to get a tattoo, sometimes her mother will insist on accompanying her. This is not uncommon. However, I never thought I’d be on the flip side of that equation. Yup, you read that right. My mother was determined to get a tattoo, and I accompanied her. You can read about it in a past post titled “Ladybug“.

Breakfast In Bed

I don’t ever remember serving breakfast in bed to my mother on Mother’s Day. In fact, I can’t remember a childhood Mother’s Day that didn’t involve my mother making breakfast for us like she always did. This year, I wish I could. She and my father are in isolation and they’re 300 miles away. But if I could, I know just what I’d make for her – baked French toast.

If you’re lucky enough to be with your mom tomorrow, you can make it for her.

Baked French Toast

This will be one of the strangest and, in many ways, most difficult Mother’s Days for many of us. And as if things couldn’t get any weirder…it snowed today.

Slump

The weather outside has been frightful; cold and rainy with a thunderstorm to beat the band. Poor Fluffy is strapped into her Thunder Shirt which, to be honest, doesn’t fully alleviate her anxiety during storms.

My husband and I don’t need comfort garments, but some comfort food would be just the ticket on a day like this. Nothing, I thought, would hit the spot more than a chicken pot pie.

Now, I don’t know about you, but it seems I’ve been on some sort of unending rotation throughout this isolation period: Cook, clean the kitchen, cook some more, clean again, and so on…

I enjoy cooking, but sometimes I don’t feel like dirtying every pot, pan, rolling pin, food processor, etc. just to whip up a single meal. So, creating pasty dough for a chicken pot pie was not in the cards today. However, finding shortcuts is kind of my thing. If there’s an easier way to do something, I’ll find it. That’s when I was struck by inspiration.

During the summer, I make super simple fruit “pies” that don’t require crust per se. Why not use the same method to make a pot “pie”?

So I did just that. And if you’d like to learn how, just click here for my super simple Chicken Slump!

SNORK Chicken Slump

Preheat oven to 375

Filling:

1 onion, diced

1 tablespoon oil

1 tablespoon dried rosemary

4 cups cooked, diced chicken

1 can condensed mushroom soup thinned with 1 can-full of milk

2 cups frozen vegetables (thawed)

Topping:

1 cup flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 1/2 teaspoons Bell’s Poultry Seasoning*

3/4 cup milk

2 tablespoons melted butter

Method:

In a medium sauce pan, heat oil and rosemary over medium heat.

Add onions and sauté for 3-5 minutes until soft

Add condensed soup mixture, vegetables and chicken

Pour filling into a baking dish In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, seasoning, salt and baking powder

Add milk and melted butter

Stir until combined into a batter

Pour batter over filling and smooth evenly

Bake for about 40-45 minutes or until the topping becomes golden brown

Let cool for 15-20 minutes before serving

*You can substitute Bell’s Poultry Seasoning with 1 tablespoon of your favorite herbs/spices or the following mixture: 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano 1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram 1/2 teaspoon dried ginger 1/2 dried sage

Go Bananas

April 19, 2020

Visits to the supermarket are one of my least favorite things, especially now. People encroach on my personal space – get out of my hula hoop, encroachers! – some people don’t wear masks or gloves, and the shelves are half empty. So, I try not to go at all. But when I have no other option, it’s time to suit up and say a little prayer.

The moment I cross the threshold, all I can think about is leaving. I arm myself with a list, which is quickly abandoned when I discover they don’t have bread, but they have english muffins (I can make sandwiches with those). They don’t have flour but they have oatmeal (I can make flour out of oatmeal). They don’t have garlic, but they have coconuts (I can’t make anything by substituting coconuts for garlic). But I buy a coconut and I’ll figure it out later. That’s how it is now; you get what you get and you don’t get upset.

The last time I hit the store, about three weeks ago, I bought a huge bunch of bananas assuming I’d have them for snacks or for breakfast with some peanut butter. Well, that did not happen and I ended up with a large bunch of black things that used to be bananas.

However, this is no time to throw away food or money. So I decided to make two yummy dishes with them. Click here to learn my recipes for SNORK Bananas Foster and the easiest banana bread you could ever hope to make!

Getting Saucy With Governor Cuomo

April 14, 2020 (Toilet paper inventory: 10!)

Easter has come and gone. It’s been years since the Easter bunny has visited me personally. He’s shown up for my husband and kids for years, but always seems to forget my basket! This year, however, he made up for it in a big way. Imagine my surprise to find a bundle of pandemic-themed goodies on my front porch: pasta, garlic, a biscotti and, joy of joys, four rolls of toilet paper! I suspect he was in cahoots with my dear friend, Wendy, but I can’t prove it.

If you’ve been keeping a close eye on New York, you have probably seen our Governor, Andrew Cuomo, working tirelessly for us. So, I got a little miffed when his baby brother, Chris Cuomo, was giving him “the business” over maternal favoritism.

It seems the Governor’s whippersnapperish younger brother holds to the idea that he is their mother’s favorite. He rubbed in the Governors’s face that he, Chris, was anointed with their mom’s spaghetti sauce recipe; asserting that no other sibling has it.

Any good Italian knows that family sauce recipes are shrouded in mystique, and are coveted secrets. So this kind of claim on Chris’s part was a particularly low blow.

I could not let this stand and I just had to come to the Governor’s rescue. It’s the least I could do. Watch my YouTube video to see my response by clicking here.

Day 9 From the Containment Zone

March 19, 2020 (Toilet paper inventory: holding at 12 rolls)

Here in the containment zone, every morning is pretty much the same. I have my rituals in place and go through them step-by-step…

  1. Wake up (Essential)
  2. Assess breathing and check for body aches/fever (All good)
  3. Tend to morning ablutions (Use your imagination. On second thought, don’t.)
  4. Go down to the kitchen and begin decontamination protocols (Involves Lysoling the bejesus out of everything my husband and I communally encounter: doorknobs, faucet handles, drawer pulls, countertops, ice dispenser touch pad, light switches, etc. And yes, “Lysoling” is now a verb.)
  5. Wash hands while singing the ABC song.
  6. Apply lotion to sandpapery skin
  7. Make and consume coffee (As essential as Step #1)
  8. Walk Fluffy (Inviting neighbors who like to walk with us. Maintain social distance.)
  9. Return home and repeat Steps 5 & 6.

This might sound a bit compulsive, and you could be asking yourself if Anita is speeding down the highway to OCD-town.  Let me assure you, once the dust settles, I will happily give up Steps 2 and 4. In fact, I’ll be able to lighten up a little after the following things happen:

  • My husband stops going to work.  He owns his own business and only comes in contact with his partner, but they have separate offices. So, there’s plenty of distance between them.  But he’s out there.  In the world.
  • March 25th passes without any sign of illness in my husband.  He attended a conference in Las Vegas and the 25th will mark the end of the supposed incubation period.  Now, since we’re talking about Vegas, baby…I’ll bet you somebody at the conference had it.  Those are pretty good odds.

So, until then, I will continue to be the sanitizing queen of corona.

After my daily checklist is complete, I start making important decisions: Should I do laundry today, or save that for tomorrow so I’ll have something to do?  Should I sort the laundry and just do whites today and save the colors for tomorrow? Should I cook for the day, or make extra for the freezer?  Should I start an adjunct list of bigger projects: Clean out the closets? Prepare the flower beds for spring planting? Build an ark?

One thing did happened this afternoon that was very different from the “norm,” whatever that is anymore. I attended a virtual memorial service for my friends’ mother who passed away two days ago.  My heart went out to the whole family that they could not gather together in person to comfort each other. But my hat’s off to them for coming up with a way to gather “virtually,” see each other’s faces and share tributes to their beautiful mom.  There were stories and songs and, honestly, it was just as meaningful as any memorial I’ve ever been to.

These are very different times, indeed.

After the service, I head back down to the kitchen to whip up some keto-friendly dishes (I decided to cook.). The diet is going well; I’ve lost quite a few pounds and feel energetic.  As long as I have access to the foods I need, I plan to stick with it.  Of course, if we reach a critical point where there is nothing left in the house but carbs, I will do what I have to do.  But we’ll dive into that bowl of pasta when we come to it.

I make keto Oopsie bread, which was easy and came out very well, I think. You can find the recipe here.  In addition, I made a lovely zucchini, bell pepper and brie frittata. And last but not least, a creamy cucumber salad.

Oopsie Bread

Once the clean-up was done, I called Amanda and invited her to our 5 o’clock Fluffy walk.  One of the wonderful things that has come out of all this is seeing families take walks together. Everyone is out with their children and their dogs.  It’s very nice. We saw our neighbor, Lauren, who came outside to say hello.  She was having a cocktail party with her husband.  It used to be “two’s company, three’s a crowd.” Now two’s a cocktail party.

Strange days indeed.

And now it’s time for some mindless entertainment.  I like documentaries.  Yesterday I watched Fyre on Netflix.  Today, who knows what I’ll find.

Then it will be dinner and some conversation when my husband gets home.  Then bed.

Until tomorrow…

Postscript: My husband received an email that someone at the Vegas conference tested positive for coronavirus.  That’s a bet I would have preferred to lose.

Sustenance

Food. Nourishment. Grub. Whatever you want to call that stuff you stuff into your mouth, its intended purpose is to support life.

I remember watching a TED Talk comparing the human brain to other animals. Our brains are more evolved because we cook our food. Could it really be that simple? It is, and here’s why: In order for the brain to grow and develop, it must be fed. The number of calories a human body burns in a day depends on its level of activity; but not your brain. It makes no difference if your brain is sleeping, designing rocket ships or trying to figure out common core math, it will burn 500 calories each and every day, no matter what.

***Listen to SNORK, the podcast by clicking here!***

If you were a gorilla, and only ate raw twigs and leaves, you would have to spend most of your waking hours eating to consume enough calories just to stay alive. If a gorilla had the capacity to cook (or, at the very least, make a smoothie), it could reduce large volumes of food into smaller, more easily digestible meals. By doing so, it could consume many more calories in much less time, making it’s brain larger and, presumably, smarter.

“Hmm, I think this paleo diet is really working.”

So, it was the discovery of fire that essential transformed us into the species we are today. These are scientific facts, people, and I don’t dispute them. But here’s where I get tripped up: what was the turning point that changed our fuel from throwing the day’s kill onto the fire into dinner parties for eight, complete with wine pairings?

Who was the first Homo erectus Martha Stewart? Did she one day think, “Hmm, I wonder if this animal flesh would taste better combined with sprigs of vegetation and some roots?” Was it she that decided meals tastes better when shared with friends? “Hey, let’s invite the Uga-ugas over this Saturday night!”

Was this the advent of our complicated relationship with food?

It’s hard to picture an early ancestor sitting around the cave thinking, “I’m not really hungry, but I could go for a nosh.” I don’t think lower-food chain animals behave this way. Would a lion ever hunt down a gazelle because it’s feeling a tad peckish? Can you imagine a bear polishing off a salmon because there’s nothing good on TV? Or what if a chipmunk’s mate ran away? Would it scarf down all the nuts it was saving for winter because it had no access to raw cookie dough?

No, these disordered uses of food are strictly human. I hate to be a downer, but let’s face it: we sometimes take the very thing that’s meant to keep us alive and use it to slowly kill ourselves. They don’t call it “death by chocolate” for nothing.

And even if you have a very healthy diet, I doubt you view food as simply a way of transporting nutrients into your body. No, we modern-day humans have turned our food into so much more.

Food is a major component of our social lives. We use it to celebrate, to bring people together, to give pleasure, to comfort, to express love…all good things in moderation.

My personal relationship with food, and more specifically eating, is based on romance…and sometimes anger…but mostly romance. When I speak about a good meal, I create a narrative, a sensuous, seductive story detailing every nuance of every bite.

Once, while recommending a restaurant to a friend, my husband said, They have good ravioli.”

WHAT?

“Oh, no, no, no” I said. “They have delectable cheese-filled pasta pillows, that taste like they are lovingly assembled by the chubby hands of baby cherubs…so tender, I could have rested my head on them and slept.”

Now, that’s romantic. Want to know what’s not romantic? A date that does not involve a meal, that’s what.

Every Thursday night, my husband and I go on a date. Whether we’re seeing a show, or going to a concert, we always start by going out to dinner. One night, to mix things up a little, I suggested we have a quick bite at home and spend our date playing tennis. Great idea, right? Sure, if you think throwing a hissy fit on date night adds a nice spice to a marriage. I played so badly that the evening devolved into a lot of excuses, blaming, cursing, and pouting. Sexy, no? After that failed experiment, it was back to candlelit restaurants for us – back to savoring each seductive morsel with a good glass of wine and relaxing conversation.

And we judge others by what they eat.

I once threw a dinner party, not knowing one guest was in the middle of a cleanse. Why would someone on a cleanse come to a dinner party in the first place? You tell me. Anyway, he couldn’t eat anything I served, but as luck would have it, I made floral arrangements out of carnations, clementines, squash blossoms and Nasturtiums. So, he ate the centerpiece. True story! And, yes, we all judged him.

The bottom line is this: Food is complicated. We don’t really know why we eat the way we do, or why we like some things but loathe others. All we can really be sure of is that grub does more than just sustain our bodies. It nourishes our hearts, our imaginations, our relationships and feeds the soul.

Happy Thanksgiving from SNORK!

So, this Thanksgiving, I hope you find yourself sitting at a table with the people you love, feeling full of life’s blessings and enjoying all the flavors of this world’s abundance.

Matzo Ball Soup

(Don’t miss out on additional content. Listen to Matzo Ball Soup on SNORK, the podcast! Click Here!http://hwcdn.libsyn.com/p/d/e/a/dea34392b8dc86b6/Snork_Episode02.mp3?c_id=8785619&expiration=1429239792&hwt=2d30163003d047fd2e16267ba1170c58)

In the Spring of 1990, Easter and Passover landed on the same weekend. It just so happened, that was also the weekend I chose to bring my boyfriend home to meet my family. Since we are Catholic and he is Jewish, I thought why don’t I surprise him and make matzo ball soup with Easter dinner?!

I had never made it before and, truth be told, I’d never eaten it before either. But, I figured, it’s soup. How hard could it be?

Since I wanted to make a good impression, I called his mother and asked for her recipe.

“Manischewitz,” she said.

“Is that a cookbook?” I asked her

“No, no,” she said. “It’s a brand. It comes in a box. From the supermarket.”

“Oh,” I said. “But I kind of wanted to make your recipe. The one he grew up with.”

“Manischewitz,” she repeated. “Just throw some fresh chopped parsley in there. It makes it look more homemade.”

So, I went to the store to find the mix. The package claimed that one box made nine servings: a cup of broth and one matzo ball each.

This was perfect because 18 people were coming for dinner. I bought two boxes. Following the directions, I prepared the matzo meal, but when I rolled out the balls, they were as small as walnuts – miniscule.

I would be embarrassed to offer such a puny portion to my boyfriend. So, I went back to the store and bought two more boxes, then combined all the matzo meal and doubled the size of the balls. They still looked small to me, but it was actually better that way. I wouldn’t want everyone to fill up on soup, since my mother was cooking a huge ham. As you may have guessed, I hadn’t fully thought things through, menu-wise.

Once the balls were done, I carefully dropped them into the prepared broth. As per the package instructed, I covered it tightly.

While waiting for the soup to cook, I chopped the fresh parsley.

All this was going on at the same time that my family was getting to know my boyfriend. And by “getting to know” I mean “interrogating.”

After the soup was allowed to cook for the prescribed 20 minutes, I removed the lid.

It was like a David Copperfield trick. All of the broth, ever last drop, had disappeared. And each matzo ball had magically transformed into blobs the size of a grapefruit! But it was too late to start over. My mother had called everyone in to dinner and they were already seated. So I had to serve it.

Sinker!

To make matters worse, my mothers fancy china came with dainty little soup bowls. I could barely fit one ball in each.

My sister came into the kitchen to help me serve. She looked at one of the bowls, looked in the pot and asked, “What the hell are these?”

“Knock it off” I snapped. “They’re matzo balls, of course. What do they look like?”

“Grapefruits,” she replied.

“Never mind, just bring them out,” I said, as I hit each bowl with a few sprinkles of parsley. Oh, yeah. That parsley made all the difference. They looked homemade all right. Homemade by a shiksa who can’t follow directions from a box of soup mix.

My boyfriend looked at his bowl and I knew that he knew that I knew I’d screwed up. And then he said, “Sinkers! My favorite! These are just the way my mother made them.”

Now what do you do with a guy who’d tell such a sweet lie. You marry him of course. And that’s just what I did.

Give Them Love

For many, the holidays are a time of rejoicing, of abundance, and of feasting. But it can be the most difficult time of the year for many others. This SNORK is a public service announcement, dedicated to shining a light on a group of people who are often mocked, marginalized, and misunderstood. I am, of course, referring to vegans.

Oh, I can just hear you: “Who me? Why, some of my best friends are vegans!”

Please don’t try to defend yourself. I’ve seen it first-hand; the way people roll their eyes when someone announces their veganism. I’ve heard, “Well, I’d invite so-and-so to the dinner party, but have you ever tried cooking for a vegan? It’s a pain in the ass!”

I can tell you what it’s like from both perspectives because I, too, was once one of them.

It all happened very suddenly. I was working out at the gym one day, when my trainer handed me a copy Skinny Bitch. His message, while as subtle as a blood-curdling scream, was not lost on me. By the time I finished reading it, I was so repulsed by the thought of food, any food, that I ate nothing but organic strawberries for the next three days. I won’t go into details here, but if you’ve read it, you know what I mean.

So, just like that, without forethought, I made a drastic and life-changing decision. This was not a bright idea, by the way. It’s probably better to put a little planning into something that dramatic, but no – not me! I jumped right in. Hindsight might suggest that I was actually pushed into it by an over-enthusiastic 19-year-old trainer with less than 4% body fat, but I bear no ill will against him (and may he blow up like a balloon when he hits the age of 40). Anyway…

The first step toward my new lifestyle was to drive to Whole Foods and purchase about a trillion dollars worth of groceries marked “vegan.” Whole Foods makes it all so easy by clearly tagging vegan-friendly products. No pesky label reading for this girl. Thank you Whole Foods.

The next step was to eat the food identified as “vegan.” This was a little trickier than purchasing it. For example, there is a phenomenon known as “vegan cheese.” Now, if you have had a lifelong love affair with all things dairy, this rubbery impostor will make you cry real tears. I searched the web for the most recommended brands, bought them all, tested them in a variety of recipes and decided I’d rather go without than try to fool myself into believing this crap was cheese (or even food, for that matter).

After a few weeks, two things became obvious:

  1. The vegan foods from the supermarket are so highly processed, you may as well eat a Big Mac (no offense Mickey D), and
  2. Whenever mealtime rolled around, I wanted to curl into the fetal position. You see, preparing food was becoming a much bigger chore since my carnivorous days…so much so, in fact, that I hated eating.

Now this should alarm you. Here I was, a healthy American-Italian-Armenian (translation: unabashed food lover) and I did not want to eat. My meals became repetitive and uninspired. Breakfast: oatmeal with berries and almond milk. Lunch: peanut butter on apples or bananas. Dinner: sautéed vegetables with rice and beans, and a salad. Zzzzzzz…

I should mention that during this time, I did not force my family to get on board. Hubby and the kids were still enjoying omnivore cuisine. I would cook for them without ever feeling the least bit resentful as I listened to sunny-side-up eggs popping and squeaking in the frying pan. I did not once growl or grimace as I coated precious, tender lamb chops with my own concoction of mint, garlic, onions and lemon and then smelled their heavenly aroma as they sizzled upon the grill. Oh, no! I was more than happy to do it, while my rice was boiling on the stove.

You had me at ‘mallow.

I should also mention that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t so much fun to be around during my vegan adventure. As a result, my kids went from being normal teenagers to becoming food pushers: “Hey mom, you gotta try this provolone!” Or, “Tonight would be a great night for s’mores! Whaddya say?” They were desperate because I was becoming a real drag, a chronic cranky pants, to be exact. But I remained steadfast (against my own instincts). Oh, and are you surprised that vegans can’t have s’mores? Well, chocolate has milk in it and marshmallows (my kryptonite) are made with gelatin, which comes from pigs. So cross those off the list, along with every other delicious thing you can possibly think of.

Something else that I longed for was dining out. So hubby took me to a local Mexican restaurant and assured me there must be something on the menu that I could eat. Of course, I asked all the pertinent vegan questions to make sure there was not a hint of the verboten in my meal. After I sufficiently interrogated the waiter, I ordered a vegetable burrito (which was not on the menu, so I explained how to make one). When my dinner arrived, it was essentially under-cooked broccoli, with a few carrot slivers, wrapped in a tortilla. I just looked at it, sighed and drank my meat-free water. Misery.

And then, the moment I dreaded the most…we were invited to a Christmas party – a Christmas dinner party. I gave my husband strict instructions not to tell anyone I was a vegan. I did not want to be one of those preachy, demanding people with “dietary issues.” Surely I could navigate the meal by eating side dishes, after nonchalantly asking about their ingredients: “Wow, those Brussels sprouts look super tasty! What’s in them? Oh, bacon? Like real bacon or those soy bacon bits? Oh, real bacon. Ohhh.” Curse you, real bacon! And of course I could always fall back on the salad, and perhaps have some salad and maybe take a little salad. God help me if the hostess got creative by adding cheese to it.

That first party went off without a hitch. No one was the wiser. But the second soiree took a nasty turn. While performing my new skill of undercover food detective, I was able to ascertain which items on the table were OK and which were off-limits. But something must have had a hidden criminal element in it, such as chicken broth or perhaps butter. How do I know? Because when I got home, I was sicker than sick. It was the kind of sick that makes you fear you might die, and then fear that you might not. I had passed up the gorgeous beef Wellington, skipped the creamy mashed potatoes, and ignored the luscious cheesecake only to be taken down by the wild rice or some frigging yams! Unbeknownst to me, when you give up animal product for any length of time and then eat it again, your body holds a clearance sale: Everything Must Go!

Yet I still wasn’t willing to give up. Why? Truth be told, I never felt physically better in my life (with the exception of the aforementioned “incident”). Gone was the arthritis pain in my knee. No more belly bloat. No more general malaise. Psychologically, however, I was feeling pretty damn sorry for myself. But, life is full of trade-offs. Right? Certainly I would get used to this new way of eating. Right? People, I do not have what it takes to make a successful martyr. Sorry. No can do.

But here’s what finally tipped the scales and put me back on the meat wagon…my old pal, Whole Foods.

Each November, Whole Foods publishes a holiday menu full of catering fare. I always have at least 30 people for holiday dinners and, handy though I may be in the kitchen, I am not equipped to run a banquet hall. So I’ve always turned to Whole Foods for an assist. Basically I order the same things every year: one shrimp cocktail platter that serves 12 (if you show up late, you’re out of luck, my friend), an assorted crudité platter that serves 24, one Brie en croute that serves up to 10, and a double order of their turkey dinner for 8 (which consists of two turkeys and various sides). While flipping through the menu in search of additional dishes to round out the meal, I saw it. There it was, on page 10…the saddest thing you can imagine, especially during the holidays. Among the sumptuous offerings of “Rib Roast Dinner for 8” and “Roasted Pork Loin for 4” was “Vegan Dinner…for 1.”

One is the loneliest number.

One is the loneliest number.

In that moment, it all came into focus. I was alone. I was dinner for one. And, bloat be damned, I was hungry for cheese. Glorious, glorious cheese! And marshmallows. Real marshmallows made from Porky Pig! And wild salmon! And beef! I broke down is a puddle of my own wanton desire. It was not pretty, but it was bound to happen.

Therefore, when I say to you, “vegans need love,” I know what I’m talking about. So, the next time you meet one, or have to cook for one, or have to eat with one, keep an open mind. Do not judge. Do not mock. Instead, open your arms and give that skinny bitch a hug.

 

My New Lover

I’m going to do some things in today’s post that I’ve never done in this blog before.  For starters, I’m going to tell you what really gets my motor going.  I’m going to get specific.  And I’m going to name names.  Brace.

Women often have to think outside the box to spice things up at home.  Well, I’m no different.  There was something I’d been fantasizing about, craving, and wanting for some time…to bring a pro into our lives.  When I finally got up the nerve to tell my husband, he blanched a little, but ultimately climbed on board and agreed to satisfy my longing.  Of course, I’m referring to the Vitamix Professional Series 750, which I asked Hubby to give me for Christmas.  He balked because it’s a pricey piece of equipment, but you get what you pay for (and, trust me, I am getting my money’s worth).  If you’ve never seen one, well…it’s really sort of a blender, but to call it that diminishes its fabulousness, as far as I’m concerned.

For the record, I’m not hawking this thing or getting paid to mention it.  It’s just that I’m in the mood…to share.

Diamonds, exotic vacations, and fancy cars make some women swoon.  Me?  I go bonkers for scullery gadgets.  I like the aforementioned fine things, too, but gift me with something shiny that plugs into the kitchen, and I get that certain kind of feeling all over.  You would be hard-pressed to come up with a culinary accessory that I don’t own.  I have juicers, stand mixers, pasta machines, espresso makers…all of it.  Oh, and just in case you’re getting ideas, please be advised: I do not share, lend, or otherwise allow the touching of my wares.  So don’t even ask me.

Anywho, before I enter into any committed relationship, I do my research.  I had been lusting after a Vitamix for several years, but since it runs about $700, I really had to want it and want it bad.  What first attracted me was its ability to make things hot (like soup) and cold (like frozen desserts).  How is this even possible?  As part of my investigation, I visited Sur La Table and started poking around.  When approached by the store’s manager, I began pumping him about the Vitamix Pro 750.

“Rather than tell you,” he purred, “Why don’t I show you?”

Uh-oh!  He planned to tantalize me with a demonstration.  Before he even started, I knew I’d be powerless against his seduction.

He produced a stalk of celery, snapped it in half and put it in the container.  Then he whipped out the biggest carrot I’d ever seen in my life.  He cut it into three pieces (just three!!) and placed them with the celery, then added about half a cup of apple juice.  Flipping a switch, the contents were reduced to a liquid within seconds.  I actually, audibly gasped.  Then, just to drive the point home, he let it run a little longer.  The contents became hot and steamy.  He gave me a taste.  It was like a soup my husband loves – a soup that normally takes over an hour to make.  I began daydreaming of all the things I wanted to do with that machine.  My reverie was interrupted when I realized a crowd had formed.  Strangers were watching.  I felt my cheeks get hot and flushed.

Already fully enrapt, I nearly collapsed when he showed me how to clean it.  He filled it half-way with warm water and added two drops of dish soap.  Running the pre-programmed cleaning cycle, which takes just one minute, it was sparkling (needing only to have the suds rinsed out).  No dismantling.  No screwing and unscrewing.  Heaven help me, I was a goner.

Since receiving this magnificent piece of machinery, I have used it every single day.  My All-Clad 7-Qt. Deluxe Slow Cooker is starting to get jealous, but I don’t care.  I’m in love.

Now, I’m going to do the second thing I’ve never done in this blog:  I’m going to give you a recipe.  It’s for my Carrot-Orange Soup, based on a recipe from the original Silver Palate Cookbook.  The ingredients are basically the same, but the proportions and method are mine. Here goes…

Anita's Pro 750 Carrot-Orange Soup

Anita’s Pro 750 Carrot-Orange Soup

 1 tablespoon of butter

1 tablespoon of olive oil

1 large Vidalia onion, peeled and cut in half

4 gigantic carrots, peeled and cut into thirds

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (divided)

1 medium orange

1 cup orange juice

Salt and pepper to taste

 

Options:

 ½ cup toasted papitas (hulled pumpkin seeds)

fresh orange zest

2 teaspoons mild curry powder

1” chunk of fresh ginger (peeled)

Method:

In a large saucepan, heat the oil and butter over medium heat.  While waiting for the butter to melt, place half the stock, onion and carrots into the Vitamix  Pro 750 (if you’re using ginger, throw that in there, too).  Turn the dial to “1” and pulse about 5 times to pulverize the onions and carrots (some chunks might remain.  That’s OK).  Add the carrot/onion blend to the oil/butter mixture (if using curry, stir it in now).  Squeeze in the juice of the orange.  Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Pour the whole kit and caboodle back into the Vitamix, add remaining stock, and run the pre-programmed “soup” function.  When the machine stops running, stir in the orange juice by hand and divide into serving bowls.  Garnish with the orange zest and papitas.  I like to serve it with Glutino gluten-free Cheddar crackers. Makes 4 servings.  If you don’t have a Vitamix Professional Series 750, you’ll just have to get one, ‘cuz you can’t borrow mine.