Lunar New Year: Enter the Monkey

February 8, 2016 by  
Filed under Food & Drink, Pleasures

Photo by Pat Kinney

Photo by Pat Kinney

Today Asian and other communities around the world are celebrating the Lunar New Year, or Spring Festival. Celebrations from Chinatown in New York City to small communities, like Leonia, N.J., mark the beginning of the Year of the Monkey. Last year was the Year of the Goat.

For many Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean families, the Lunar New Year is a time to gather and enjoy a festive meal together.

Although I am not Asian, I am celebrating this year with a Chinese menu that I enjoy almost every Lunar New Year. The menu uses a lot of vegetables, and pays gracious respect to the pig and the chicken, who are celebrated in other years. The egg rolls are cooked in oil until crisp, which signifies good luck:

Lunar New Year Egg Rolls

6 dried shiitake mushrooms (soaked in cold water until softened, drained and squeezed dry)
2 cups shredded Napa cabbage
1 roughly chopped bell pepper (green is fine but yellow or red is more festive)
1 cup carrots, shredded thinly
2 cups celery, cut into julienne
1/2 cup canned bamboo shoots, rinsed
1/2 cup scallions thinly sliced
1 tsp. salt
Canola oil for frying
1/2 tsp. sugar
eggroll or springroll wrappers (about 7″ sq.)
1 tsp. flour
1/4 tsp. white pepper
Chinese yellow mustard powder mixed with a few drops of water to make a paste

  1. In a wok or deep skillet heat 1 Tbsp. oil. Add garlic, then stir fry until garlic becomes aromatic.
  2. Add cabbage, celery carrots, bamboo shoots, mushrooms. Stir fry until cabbage and celery become limp.
  3. Sprinkle in salt, sugar, pepper.
  4. Remove from heat, set aside to cool


  1. Place wrappers under damp cloth on work surface.
  2. Combine 1 Tbsp. flour with 1 Tbsp. cold water.
  3. Place one wrapper on counter, with one corner facing you — spread about one-third  of the filling near the lower corner.
  4. Fold the bottom corner over the filling.
  5. Roll the wrapper once, then fold up the sides.
  6. Continue rolling until a tight cylinder has been formed.


  1. Rinse wok or frypan and dry thoroughly.
  2. Heat about 3 cups oil to 325 degrees on deep-frying thermometer.
  3. Add 3 or 4 eggrolls at a time, fry until golden.
  4. Remove with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.
  5. Repeat until all rolls are fried and drained.
  6. Slice each roll into three small cylinders.
  7. Serve with soy sauce and Chinese yellow mustard for dipping. (Chinese mustard powder mixed with cold water to make a paste — or tube of prepared mustard)

Next Page: Wonton Soup and Sweet and Sour Pork Read More

Scarborough Fair Primavera Pasta

September 18, 2015 by  
Filed under Food & Drink


This recipe is inspired by the Simon and Garfunkel song ‘Scarborough Fair.‘  I use parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, which grow in my patio garden (and are featured lyrics in the song!).

Are you going to Scarborough Fair?
Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme;
Remember me to the one who lives there,
For once she was a true love of mine.

Utensils: Pot for pasta, frying pan for veggies, bowl for serving, cutting board and knife
Prep. Time & Cooking Time (done simultaneously) 20-30 minutes


4 oz. of your favorite pasta (usually ½ box), cooked according to package directions
4 tbl. olive oil (2 for the veggies and 2 for the cooked pasta)
1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
sprigs of parsley, sage, rosemary & thyme (Leaves removed, discard stems)

Use any or all of the following, organic if possible: (total-3 cups veggies)½ cup onion
½ cup cauliflower pieces
½ cup broccoli tops
½ cup zucchini
½ cup yellow squash
½ cup red bell pepper


  1. Put pasta water in large pot, bring to a boil and cook according to package directions. (I used gluten-free quinoa garden pagodas, similar to twists.)
  2. In the meantime, wash veggies well and dice or mince into bite-sized pieces.
  3. In a large frying pan, add 2 tbl. olive oil and minced garlic clove. Add minced or diced veggies and sauté until tender, but not soggy. (I used a cast iron frying pan, put the pan in the oven near the end of cooking and turned it on broil for under five minutes to simulate being cooked on the grill, another option.)
  4. By now the pasta will be cooked, so drain and toss with remaining two tablespoons olive oil and chopped, fresh herbs. (If using dried, you can use less.)
  5. Add sautéed (and possibly grilled) veggies to herb-flavored pasta and toss well.

Serves two to four portions, depending on whether this is a main dish or side dish. Can be served hot or cold, so it can be made earlier in the day or the day before.





One Day in the Life of a Caterer/Chef: Five Cooks, 30 Recipes, 250 Guests

January 22, 2013 by  
Filed under Food & Drink, Pleasures

Chef Ro Howe smallRo Howe is our favorite chef; she has catered scores of parties, formal dinners, and family gatherings for us. (Catered by proxy, that is, through her many luscious article for Women ’s Voices, ranging from “A Savory Mad Men Night Meal” to a four-part series called “Valentine’s Day Enchantment.” Ro is the chef-owner of Barraud Caterers. Ltd., In New York City.

Here, as the third diary in our series “Days of Their Lives”—profiles of accomplished women with unusual jobs—is a peek into the hectic kitchen of a caterer/chef. —Ed.


There is no such thing as a regular, normal day for a chef who is also a caterer. Every day is driven by particular clients and their specific events, so every day is different from every previous day. (There are similarities, though, in the repeated sounds of small appliances whirring.) I kept a diary of the preparations in my kitchen on Thursday, December 6, 2012—a “typical” (but nevertheless unique) day in the life of a caterer/chef.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The first of three days’ prep for two back-to-back parties

7 a.m. In the kitchen early for a meat delivery from Ottomanelli’s. While I’m waiting for the crew to arrive, I read and respond to e-mails, pay bills, post a daily snippet on Facebook, then check the prep sheet and allocate jobs, writing the initials of which staff will start on which jobs when they arrive.

Sometimes I’m lucky: Two clients may select some of the same items from my menus, so we can prep some recipes for both events at the same time. Alas, not this time: two parties, back to back—long cocktail events for 150 and 100, with no menu overlap. So we’re preparing 30 different recipes in three days.

Here are the menus, to provide you with a map of the various activities.

 Party One

For 150 guests in a large penthouse apartment in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on December 8

Ro Howe. Pea Mousse      Ro Howe. Red Pepper Bruschetta
Pea mousse with prosciutto crisps; roasted red pepper bruschetta with sherry-garlic butter & preserved lemon

Hot Amuse-Gueule
Middle Eastern lamb “piggies” with fruit and mustard yogurt
Seafood corn dogs with red pepper mayonnaise
Harissa macaroni and cheese with herb crumbs—ramekin with demi spoon
Red Thai shrimp bisque with sweet pea–cilantro ice cream—demi cup
Roast duck, black bean and Mahón cheese quesadilla with poblano-corn salsa
Spiced foie gras crème brûlée with candied nuts and fruit—ramekin with demi spoon
Pork and shrimp pot stickers
 Cold Amuse-Gueule
Roasted pepper bruschetta with sherry-garlic butter and preserved lemon
Buttermilk pea mousse with prosciutto crisps—Chinese spoon
Vegetable and herb summer roll—with sriracha mayonnaise
Peanut butter shortbread with chocolate-peanut butter mousse and roasted popcorn ice cream
Sticky toffee banana bread pudding with Bourbon crème fraîche—ramekin with demi spoon

Party Two

For 100 guests, in a large private home on Park Avenue, December 9

Ro Howe. Spicy Tuna     Ro Howe. Spiced pork belly
Spicy tuna w/ yuzu-apple mayonnaise & wasabi pea sprinkle; spiced pork belly with grapes & radish 

Hot Amuse-Gueule
Mushroom broth ravioli—spoon
Soy and fruit-braised beef short ribs with pickled carrots and mustard seeds—spoon
Asparagus, morel polpettone with Madeira crème fraîche
Maple-bacon glazed scallops on butternut squash risotto pancakes—frisée, mushroom salad
Thai chicken curry in mango toast tartlets
Cold Amuse-Gueule
Oysters with cucumber martini sorbet and white balsamic drizzle—martini glass & spoon
Melon gazpacho with chili oil Alaskan crab—shot glass
Citrus, honey, and herb-marinated lobster with mango and avocado—spoon
Masala-coffee spiced duck salad with cranberry vinaigrette in endive spear
Snow pea, rice vermicelli, and mint with spicy balsamic-citrus syrup, cashew dressing—spoon
Spicy tuna with yuzu-apple mayonnaise and wasabi pea sprinkle in nori cups
Chilled coconut soup with poached pineapple, mango tapioca, and spicy lime syrup—shot glass
Carrot cake with cardamom cream cheese frosting and cinnamon ice cream—spoon
Saint-Marcellin crème brûlée with roasted pear—ramekin & demitasse spoon
Chocolate bread pudding with caramel sauce and whipped cream—ramekin with demitasse spoon
Specialty cocktails
Pomegranate martini
Hot spiced apple toddy

9 a.m. Crew of five arrives, along with the produce delivery. Ben helps me check in the order. Cilantro goes back—yellowing and lacks flavor. Georgie is re-packing items into assigned storage areas: herbs released from their rubber bands, beets and potatoes in the root bin, etc. After I’ve signed for the order I get to assignments.

“Ben—you’re on custard and caramel sauce for the chocolate bread puddings and sweet pea-cilantro for the ice cream.

“Christa—prep all the meat marinades: for the pork belly, duck, beef short ribs.

“Tim and Pitita—divvy up all the dipping and drizzling site sauces, candied fruit for the foie crèmes, sherry-garlic butter for the bruschetta, sriracha mayonnaise for the summer roll, lemongrass-ginger syrup for the pork belly, pickled carrots for the short ribs, maple bacon glaze for the scallops, Madeira crème fraîche for the asparagus polpettone, cashew dressing and white balsamic drizzle for the snow pea salad, cranberry vinaigrette for the duck, yuzu-apple mayonnaise and wasabi pea sprinkle for the tuna tartare, spicy lime syrup for the coconut soup.”

That’ll keep them all busy until the meat arrives!

10:20 a.m. Call from Client One: the numbers have gone up by 20. Food’s fine, but I need to increase the rentals.

Call the rental company. “Diane, can we increase AP glassware by 40 and martini and champagne glasses by 20 each? Also we’ll need another coat rack with wooden hangers. Also—don’t forget—for entry to that building you need to present an insurance certificate and all the delivery guys need photo ID. Great! Thanks!”

Call the ice company. “Mike—increase my order for Columbus Circle from four to five tins—just to be safe. Your guys need photo ID . . . I’d prefer not to send a staff member down to the loading dock to pick up the ice tubs like last year.”

Call captain and waiters to establish arrival times and dress for both events. Leaving messages—“Call back to confirm, repeating details please folks?”

11 a.m. Checking on everyone’s process, progress, and labeling. Whether the dish is good, delicious, or delectable—correct labeling is THE most important system in catering! No matter how much effort you put into a task, if it doesn’t arrive at the site, ALL is/was/will be in vain. AMEN!

Christa joins Ben & Pitita to finish the site sauces.

Noon. Call Vananda transport to verify pickup time for both events.

12:05 p.m. Ottomanelli’s butcher delivery arrives.

“Georgie—please collect the meat bins?”

Checking in the ground lamb, Muscovy duck breast, B grade foie lobe, ground pork, prosciutto sliced nice and thin. Please check? Pork belly, center cut only, beef short ribs, Korean cut across the bone only; smoked bacon, chicken thighs—stored separately, lunch sausage.

12:20 p.m.: “Ben—you’re on lunch: sausage, pasta, salad, for 1:30 please?”

12:30 p.m. I start the butchering, calling for the marinades to be added to each piece of meat as it’s completed, set up a bain-marie for baking foie for the custard.

1:30 p.m. Butchery completed. “Lunch, Ben?” Tasty, healthy lunch: protein, carbs, and lots of salad.

Checking on the morning’s batch of emails: inquiries from two brides; send first response with Press Kit and menus; a regular corporate client wants to reschedule holiday party to mid-January. Great idea! Bookkeeper looking for last month’s deposit slips. (Drat!) Three waiters looking to join my team. Thank them and forward two résumés to Todd, my GM.

2 p.m. Round two! “Georgie, churn all the ice creams and freeze.”

“Christa and Georgie, you’re on puff pastry for the piggies, prosciutto crisps for the pea mousse, peanut butter shortbreads, sticky toffee banana bread pudding, mango toast tartlets, carrot cake, cream cheese mousse, Bourbon crème fraîche, complete chocolate bread pudding—bake in bain marie.”

That’ll keep the oven going until after teatime (4 p.m. most days).

“Tim and Pitita, you’re on stovetop work: flame-roasting peppers for the bruschetta, mac and cheese, quesadilla filling, pea mousse, mushroom broth for ravioli, asparagus gnocchi for the polpettone, butternut squash risotto pancakes, St. Marcellin crème for the brûlée.”

4 p.m. I’m the tea lady. We’re all still heads-down, deep in prep. It’s going to be a long day. The first of three. Tomorrow more of the same, plus the fish will get delivered so we have to prepare for immediate action on blanching lobsters, cleaning and prepping oysters and shrimp—all work done on ice.

4:30 p.m. Baking finished. Oven turned over to the meat braising. All finished items packed, labeled, checked twice, and prep list–checked.

6:30 p.m. Surfaces cleaned and sanitized, floors swept, scrubbed and mopped, stovetop washed. Racks set up for cooling braises.

7 p.m. Dismiss staff. First batch of kitchen laundry in.

Check emails. Staff allocation for prep tomorrow. Braises out on racks to cool. Check the sauce concentration and flavor profile of all.

8 p.m. Kitchen closed. Both party days start at 9 o’clock, as usual, and keep going until after midnight. Then it’s back to the kitchen, unload, pre-wash ready. for full wash in the morning—mind still working.

From “Mother’s Ruin” to “Summer Refreshment”: Icy Gin and Oysters!

August 25, 2012 by  
Filed under Food & Drink, House & Home, Pleasures

As a chef I am constantly exploring new ways to utilize familiar ingredients. Hmmmm. What would be a courageous (but not ruinous) combination—a chill-thrill on a sweltering summer day when no one wants to turn on the oven to prepare dinner? Hmmmm. How about pairing oysters and a really cold martini with cucumber juice? Yes . . . listen for bells!—there is a marriage happening!—voilà! Cucumber martini sorbet with oysters and red pepper balsamic syrup!

Gin is the majestic ingredient in a real martini. All those vodka folks are faking it! The Dutch doctor who invented gin in the seventeenth century prescribed it for all sorts of internal ailments. The English troops fighting the Spanish discovered gin in Holland, noticed its effects before battle, and dubbed it “Dutch Courage.”

In the eighteenth century, the British government allowed unlicensed gin production. Since this made gin cheaper than other alcohol, it became the favorite tipple of the poor, who drank gin instead of water. (Until the mid-nineteenth century when municipal water purification was introduced, alcoholic beverages in many forms were preferable to polluted fetid water in cities.)

Why “Mother’s Ruin”? Because women were the caretakers of infants and children, so they took the brunt of scorn for the drunken. Hogarth limned their shame in his etching Gin Lanehalf-naked women lolling about the streets with infants in high squeal at their breasts.

Mixologists (hateful term!) are using vegetables and fruit to enhance their cocktails. Here is an appetizer fashioned from a frozen veggie martini, graced with an oyster. I suggest using London dry gin, which is derived from juniper berries and other botanicals introduced into the distilling process.


Cucumber Martini Sorbet with Oysters

And Red Pepper Balsamic Syrup

Yield: 12 servings as an appetizer

Special equipment: Blender, measuring cups and spoons, 12 small cocktail glasses, 12 teaspoons

6 tablespoons good quality dry gin like Tanqueray Ten
2 tablespoons dry vermouth  
2 cups large, washed, cubed English/hothouse cucumber
2 tablespoons superfine sugar
A few twists freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 mint leaves
2 tablespoons lime juice

12 oysters, shucked, reserved in their liquor

¼ cup white balsamic vinegar
Pinch red pepper flakes
¼ cup granulated sugar

12 small mint leaves

For the sorbet, pour gin, vermouth, and sugar into a blender. Turn the blender onto high speed. Drop cubes of cucumber and mint leaves through feed tube till all is well liquefied.
Add the lime juice.
Place in refrigerator till completely chilled. Churn in ice cream maker and freeze.

For the balsamic syrup, heat vinegar with red pepper flakes. Add sugar, heating to melt. Allow to steep an hour before chilling.

To serve, scoop a tablespoon of sorbet into a chilled cocktail glass. Place one oyster with some liquor over the sorbet. Drizzle with balsamic syrup and garnish with a mint leaf. Serve with a teaspoon.

Ro’s Recipes: Valentine’s Day Dinner Appetizer

February 4, 2012 by  
Filed under Food & Drink, Healthy Eating

Here’s one of the nibbles I suggest for the delectable “day of enchantment” dinner you’ll be preparing.


Classic Spanish Potato and Onion Tortilla

Yield: six portions as an amuse offering before a meal


half sheet tray

mini-muffin tin

measuring cups and spoons

small wire whip

small sauté pan

one small bowl

one medium bowl



2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil for tins

1 1⁄2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1⁄2 cup minced onion

6 Tbsp. peeled, 1⁄4-inch diced, boiled potato

3 large eggs, beaten

1⁄2 tsp. Pimentón dulce (sweet Spanish paprika, available at

Kosher salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tsp. chopped flat-leaf parsley



Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Liberally brush mini-muffin tin with extra-virgin olive oil. Place muffin tin on a half-sheet tray.

Heat a small 8-inch sauté pan. Add olive oil. When shimmering, add minced onion. Sauté until the onions are golden—about 3 minutes.

Add the diced potatoes. Remove to medium bowl and cool.

When the vegetables are cold, add the seasoned, beaten eggs.

Spoon the egg mix into the muffin pan indentations, ensuring that each has onion and potato, filling half way.

Cook 7 minutes. Rotate pan. Cook another 4 minutes. Allow tortillas to cool. Remove and store, covered, until ready to serve.

To serve, reheat tortillas in 350-degree oven till warmed. Sprinkle with a gentle flourish of chopped parsley.



Made Here, Served 600 Miles Away: The Highland Games’ Dinner with the McIntyre Family

August 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Food & Drink, Pleasures

Earlier this month, the husband and four sons that we share moved out to Michigan for summer lake fun, built around “The Highland Games.” This is the largest group of mad Scots in America, who gather clan by clan to spend a day re-enacting something that feels too much like Mel Gibson’s Brave Heart for my Irish sensibility. My father-in-law, who wears the McIntyre kilt whenever remotely appropriate, loves participating in and sharing his heritage with his extended family.

This has been a work summer for me. Since I couldn’t get away for the holiday, I volunteered to fly to Michigan on Saturday and prepare a celebratory dinner for the clan—sixteen of us in all—on Saturday night, after the family would have spent an exhausting day at the Games: eating haggis, drinking Scotch, and watching large men throw telephone poles, interspersed with dozens of bagpipe regiments pouring out that special sound for hours. It was, I admit, a major extravagance of money and effort. But there are times when doing something over the top is the the right thing to do.  Not to mention the benefit to the marriage.

After my impetuous offer to prepared dinner had been accepted, I had a full blown panic attack. My sister-in-law, Jane, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, a trained sommelier, a lifelong professional in the foodie world, and the one who has prepared every special meal for the Michigan family. My motives had been pure, sort of: to give Jane a break from shopping and chopping, and to make up for the fact that I would be in Orchard Lake for only 18 hours.

“First, develop an action plan,” I tell my patients. And that is what I did.

1. Prepare the menu.


Fresh figs wrapped in thinly sliced prosciutto
Smoked whitefish mousse with homemade Genoa toast
Nicoise olives


Steak (these Scots are hearty men after all)
White rice salad
Fresh-that-day mozzarella, to be purchased at the Vinegar Factory on Thursday night, with fresh basil and drizzled with balsamic vinegar
Haricots verts, steamed and sautéed in olive oil with garlic
Peasant bread with extra-virgin olive oil


Fresh peaches and blueberries marinated in just a hint of Triple Sec
Birthday cake for sister-in-law (Jane in charge of this one)

Iced tea, bottled water, white wine, red wine

2. Email the Michigan shopping list to sons and husband.

One cheeky reply: “Thought you were making this dinner.” Forwarded to the husband; no further complaints from shoppers. The list included several items requiring the admonishment, “Find the best,” among them balsamic vinegar and olive oil, fresh peaches and blueberries, peasant bread, farmstand tomatoes, and basil. And of course, enough steak to feed a clutch of ravenous athletes and their kin.

3. Prepare New York shopping list for Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.

A.   Wednesday: Gracious Home

This is a mecca for all the housewares, moderately-priced linens, pots and pans and insulated coolers on wheels that you might ever need. I finished work at 6 p.m., rushed off to find the salesman I had bonded with on the phone as I cajoled him into doing my shopping for me in advance. Great bonding, wrong store. It seems I had become BFFs with the guy at the West Side store, not the East Side store. No matter, I made a new BFF who helped me find:  4 baking sheets, oversized zip-lock bags, 8 red cotton napkins and 8 dark yellow cotton napkins, 6 half-gallon flat plastic containers, one small, thin container for liquids—all with tight fitting lids—2 insulated coolers on wheels, one large roll of duct tape, and several icepack coolants.

B. Thursday: Vinegar Factory
Here the list included, among other things, a 36-ounce container of Jasmati long-grain white rice, Eli Zabar ficelle bread (bought at the end of the day, so almost day-old), fresh figs, haricots verts, 6 balls of freshly made mozzarella, and several cans of Le Seur baby peas. And I won’t lie: even though fresh basil was on the list for Michigan, I bought extra, just in case.

C. Friday: EAT (Eli Zabar’s)

This is my favorite food store—the best whitefish salad, the best prosciutto, and fabulous service. I called my order in and the young woman on the phone insisted on knowing how I was using the prosciutto so that she could slice it just the right way. I gave my credit card, asked for her name, and 15 minutes later found her with my wrapped foods ready to go. In and out in three minutes, buying myself some treats along the way. A cook has to eat, too.

4.  Preparation of Food

My secret agent, Raya, was waiting for me when I rushed back to the apartment on Thursday night. She is Russian and we have prepared many meals together. She had driven in from the country, after a long day’s work in Westchester County (where I used to live), to see me through one more crisis.

We agreed on the preparation of the rice: Wash it five times at least. We used 5 cups of the Jasmati rice and 6 cups of water, heated in a flat, wide, heavy pan with fitted lid over a moderate flame until wisps of steam appeared; then we  turned the flame down low for 15 minutes.  At this point, lift the lid, stir with a fork, and taste for texture. Place the rice on baking sheets until it cools and loses any extra liquid. Perfect rice.

While the rice was cooling, I made the secret family vinaigrette, “Three to One Plus Tasting:”  2 cups olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and 2 teaspoons Grey Poupon mustard into the blender. Quick mix. Then drizzle 1 cup lemon juice into the blender on lowest setting. Taste. Add salt and a bit more mustard. Taste. A bit more lemon. Perfect.

We moved the rice into a large stainless-steel bowl, then added the vinaigrette. About two-thirds of it seemed right. Then 3 cans of Le Seur baby peas. The white rice salad would be finished in Michigan with chopped green onions—more of the green than the white—and then extra vinaigrette, which would be transported in its special Gracious Homes container. The rice salad was placed into the half-gallon containers for eventual transport in the cooler.

The Genoa toast is easy but time consuming, so I made it Thursday night. Sliced the day-old Eli Zabar ficelle bread very thinly, then brushed mixture of extra virgin olive oil and a tiny amount of crushed garlic on each piece, into oven preheated to 250 degrees. Check in one hour: golden and perfect. Repeat three times. The toasts were cooled and placed in the remaining half-gallon hard plastic containers, with paper towels between each layer to prevent them from breaking into bits.

Raya helped me do a run-through with the two coolers once again. The thick containers of frozen coolant went in first. Next, the now-filled rice-salad containers and the two containers of Genoa toast. We chose the right place for the haricots verts, the fresh basil, the container of vinaigrette, and the six balls of fresh mozzarella in their own insulated bag, which had enough support to prevent them from becoming deformed in travel.

All was going so well: then the fig crisis. It was clear that my precious figs were going to be crushed. Raya talked me out of a half-filled plastic container of rice salad; instead, we cleaned it out and used it for the figs. We wrapped each fig in a piece of paper towel and placed it carefully next to its siblings in its protective container. Crisis over. Prosciutto could go almost anywhere in the cooler and there was room for a quart container of whitefish mousse, to be made the next night.

We emptied the coolers, then double-wrapped everything that could possibly leak in plastic wrap and gallon zip-lock bags, putting it all back into the refrigerator until the final packing on Saturday morning. It was midnight. Raya has a Russian sense of tragedy and was clearly suspicious of airport security authorities and their underlings. As she left for the drive home, she muttered: “After all this work, even if they let you put this on the plane, they will open it and steal it.” Great.

Friday night was uneventful. I made the quart of white fish mousse. (And, no, you can’t have that recipe. I gave you the ones for Ro Howe’s perfect rice and the secret family vinaigrette “Three to One Plus Tasting,” more or less. That should do.)

I laundered the new napkins and ironed them. Packed my clothes and personal items and went to bed reasonably early, but had a restless night due to nightmares of waking up too late to get to the airport early enough to accomplish my Homeric task, interspersed with visions of those Russian men in army uniforms and guns who allowed me to place my coolers of food on the plane…then ate it all up.

5. Transportation of Food

Saturday morning, I woke at 6:30. The coolers were packed in ten minutes. Everything fit just as planned.

Nest on the agenda was the airport drama. I had given much thought about what to wear, since I knew that getting through this process meant having to look glamorous and important, but with a dusting of fragility. I chose a pale green, delicately printed Italian silk ¾-length tunic over stovepipe white pants, matching green suede heels, and wonderful green triple stranded beads that fit closely around the neck.  Big Italian sunglasses.  You never know.

The car dropped me two hours before the flight in front of the Delta doors at LaGuardia. The driver had become another BFF, since I’d told him all about my coolers and the food inside. He agreed to help me find a skycap but had to say, “I never saw anyone taking food like this on a plane, doc.”

The gods were smiling and the day was brilliant with sunshine. Standing at the outside check-in desk was Harry, who’d helped me before, but not in situations that were quite this stressful. He recognized me and came to take my bags. “Doc, how’ve you been?  It’s been a while since I saw you last. Going to Detroit again?” Who has a memory like this? I told him my story, now much abbreviated, about the need to do the impossible: get coolers on wheels filled with food and oil-based liquids checked through without someone destroying the basil wrapped in wet paper towels, disturbing the sleeping fig babies, crushing the delicate toast, and on and on. I mentioned that I had only four hours to prepare dinner for sixteen, and that my sister-in-law was a famous chef with whom I would be unfairly compared before I began. “Don’t you worry about this, Doc,” he said. “This is what I do. I fix things.”

He took me to the first class section, where his friend Allison upgraded my ticket and then called the supervisor, who oversaw the evaluation of checked bags. Harry walked my luggage and two coolers on wheels over to the supervisor, whom he knew as well. I waited outside while he arranged for the supervisor to open the coolers, examine the food and liquids carefully, and then run it through the X-ray equipment twice. He then gave us stickers that said “Fragile” and documented that both coolers had been thoroughly inspected, along with instructions that my bags would come off first. I took out my roll of duct tape, hearing Raya’s grim warning in my ears, “You might get it checked but they will open it and steal all the food.” I wrapped both coolers many times with the tape. Finally, the wonderful Harry placed my coolers on a special extra-large baggage conveyor belt so they would be safe as possible. There could have been no tipping or thank you, that would have been enough for the service and kindness that Harry and Allison gave me on Saturday.

I arrived on time at the Detroit airport. My coolers came off first as promised, still covered in duct tape with no evidence of tampering. I took a car for the last leg of the trip to Orchard Lake. One hour later, 2 p.m., I was in the kitchen. The Michigan shopping had been done perfectly. I found an apron and went to work, joined by the competent and focused Kristen, who makes the McIntyre home function well no matter who’s in the kitchen. When Jane arrived, we discussed the food preparation in detail. She knew where the serving dishes were that would be just right for the mozzarella with tomato and basil. She admired the choice of balsamic vinegar, wrapped appropriately in gold foil. We did the finishing work companionably. This was her kitchen, after all, and I was an invited cook.

My son, Baxter, did the grilling to perfection. The husband is famous in many states for meat “ charred to death,” so Baxter’s performance was greatly appreciated.

The tables were set outside with Natalie’s yellow and red tablecloths.  The Gracious Home red and yellow napkins were peaking out of the wine glasses, chosen because these were the colors of the Orchard Lake home and the Scottish Flag. It had been a grand day at the Highland Games, and dinner with the family made for a perfect ending—600 miles away from the kitchen.

A letter to Gourmet

October 11, 2009 by  
Filed under Food & Drink, Musings

Thank you for your interest in Gourmet. We appreciate you contacting us, however, we are no longer accepting inquiries via this email address. For questions related to your Gourmet subscription, please call 1-800-365-2454.

Gourmet Magazine’s first issue was in January, 1941.Now, after 68 years, the magazine is closing because of losses. The loss incurred by me and my daughter not receiving our monthly installment of Gourmet will prove to be great. Gourmet repaired our torn relationship as cohesively as a piece of cellophane tape…seamlessly. While Gourmet was a classic in the magazine industry, it was our chosen standard.

The definition of gourmet foMareparis-10und in the Merriam’Webster Dictionary is “a connoisseur of food and drink.” But, this magazine not only represented gourmet recipes with fine drinks to accompany them, it represented us, two women who looked forward with whetted appetites at what the newest issue would include. As soon as it arrived, either my daughter would call me or I would call her and we would exclaim, “Have you got the new Gourmet?”

We were giddy with excitement as we poured over the beautiful glossy photos of food designed to spur our creativity, not dreaming it gave us a subject that was neutral and therefore safe to talk about. And we did, we salivated as we discussed the newest chicken recipe or the best recipe for cauliflower ever or the most delicious recipe for brownies, imagined. Simple food made simply gourmet, with an added spice, or a trick of leavening, but always something we had never heard of or thought of, which of course made it even more exotic. Who, but the creative minds would think of putting coriander seeds and curry in shortbread cookies…yum. Because of Gourmet magazine, my daughter and I speak openly about all things predicated with a recipe.

Gourmet gave this to us. We are saddened to be losing Gourmet. It is like losing a dear old friend we could count on to visit every month with glorious surprises, no matter what life brought us. We could face the new month armed with an artisanal of new recipes, and a new outlook, because what we were making for dinner would be splendid and provocative. Not only would we discuss the out come of the evening, but our table guests could not help but discuss the marvelous use of watermelon, or chocolate, even if it was just our husband of many years.

GourmetMagazineFebruary1974And when we were stuck inside by weather or with children we could travel the world to Korea, China, Pakistan or Ireland. Anywhere Gourmet got to go they took us with them. We lived well with our Gourmet’s tucked next to our other cookbooks, decorating the shelves with year’s worth of memories only to be thought of as we run our finger down their spines. Each issue tempting, calling for us to open it and remember the candied bacon, February 07, or my granddaughter’s first birthday; October 08 the black pepper frozen yogurt, or the day my former husband passed away. Our entire lives are marked with Gourmet.

We will miss our monthly installment of Gourmet, The Magazine Of Good Living, but we will always make, trade and taste the recipes we have treasured like a child treasures found mementos.

My daughter and I would like to thank all of you who had anything to do with its production through the years and to let you know how much you mean to us. We will always consider the magazine, Gourmet, The Magazine Of Good Living, our family cookbook.

Mare Contrare is an award winning playwright and an award winning short story writer. She currently lives in Key West, Florida where she is pursuing a career writing for Young Adults. Most recently she participated in the New York photography show A Book About Death,, sponsored by the Emily Harvey Foundation.