Butternut squash and broccoli rabe lasagna with a zesty kick

14 Mar

As a little tyke, my brother was a strict “breaditarian” (a self-imposed title). He, like many kids, dogmatically insisted that he only ate white foods; his menu of acceptable meals included bread, pasta, rice, chicken fingers, and a limited set of other items. Hot dogs were the only apparent exception to this rule.*Zesty cheese and delicious squash

With such a narrow list of food likes, the options for eating out were slim. On the rare night that my parents did not muster the energy to cook or when my brother and I were alone with my dad and he didn’t whip up his famous breakfast for dinner special, we would hop in the car and head down the road to The Italian Village.

We did not go expecting fine dining, though as kids we did not distinguish between good and bad pasta anyway. We loved the excitement of being out for dinner, the predictability of the menu that was full of things we knew we liked, and the paper place mats waiting to be turned into works of art with the complementary crayons provided.Spicy broccoli rabe

For my part, the tempting voice of lasagna always called out to me, but I found I liked the idea of it more than the reality. In my mind, lasagna should be a comforting bite of al dente pasta, creamy cheese, and flavorful sauce.

I occasionally took the leap and ordered The Italian Village’s version, but more often than not I was disappointed with the goopy mess of floppy noodles, stringy cheese, and bland sauce. As a result, I usually defaulted to the boring choice of ravioli with marinara sauce. Continue reading

No borscht here: roasted beets with oranges, mint, goat cheese, and blueberries

5 Mar

It was the summer of 1996 when I had my first run-in with beets.

I was at The Concord, a crumbling weekend getaway far past its prime, where my very extended family was having a reunion. My family unto itself, as described in the brisket post, is already the size of a NFL team roster including the injured guys, but this event included everyone descending from my great-great-grandparents’ oldest son, a few of his siblings, and their 15+ kids (and three generations thereafter).Beets and oranges

I remember the hotel room that we used as family headquarters – the “hospitality suite” (confusing as a kid – no hospital there?), where the door was always open with snacks and drinks, and where the family tree someone put up for reference stretched around all 4 sides of the room. I remember days exploring the grounds of the resort* and relishing the independence my parents granted us to roam freely from the mini golf course to the pool. I remember shyly hiding behind my grandmother as I was introduced to a distant, older cousin who wore a Chicago Bulls’ championship ring and thus had the privilege of being the long weekend’s most famous person in attendance. Continue reading

Ginger maple glazed salmon with easy leeks in the Land of Oz

26 Feb

One of the very first movies I remember seeing as a kid was The Wizard of Oz. My parents recorded it from the TV onto a VHS cassette, so whenever we watched it we would have to fast forward through the commercials. This was always a risky endeavor. Whole foods or Emerald City?Those tapes were not really meant for fast forwarding or rewinding – every time we skipped ahead, we crossed our fingers that the tape inside didn’t get stuck, creating a storm of static on the screen, distorting Judy Garland’s voice into something like the munchkins she would meet later in the story, and forcing us to hit eject, pull out tangled tape, and manually wind the spools back to health.

The movie captivated me every time. I loved the fantasy of escaping the real world to a universe of bright color, catchy songs, and a surprise around every bend in the yellow brick road. I looked forward to the Emerald City itself, sparkling and gleaming in the distance, knowing that there were people scurrying around inside, scrubbing the floors, and preparing for our arrival (I of course joined Dorothy & co in my 8-year-old mind). Once inside the gates, I toured the palace, guided by greeters stationed helpfully along the way.Beautiful raw salmon

I now realize that The Wizard of Oz, and the way I felt while watching it, bear a peculiar resemblance to the way I prefer my retail experiences as an adult. Colorful sights, pleasant music, new exhibits at every turn, helpful staff to meet my every need – IKEA? Whole Foods?

I visited a Whole Foods this weekend, and I felt a flutter in my stomach as I rode the escalator down into the depths of the store (as only a New Yorker does to get to a supermarket), taking in the sights and sounds of the produce department. A wander around found me with a beautiful cut of wild Alaskan sockeye salmon and a bunch of leeks in my basket.

Continue reading

%d bloggers like this: