Archives for category: Family

My dad died on July 2, 2012.

While I wish I could say I was prepared for it – he’d been diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer* three years earlier – or that I could rationalize a purpose for it, I can’t. Rather, I find that I simply want to eat my weight in ice cream.

We, my dad and I, always had ice cream. My earliest memories are of bowls as big as my head loaded up with vanilla or chocolate. If we were feeling edgy, we might even opt for chocolate chip. Hey, it was the early 1970s.

On special holidays, my dad and I would find ourselves sitting in my grandma’s robin’s-egg-blue kitchen with my grandpa and uncle. The four of us delighted in drowning our ice cream in chocolate syrup or floating it in Coke-a-Cola, Sprite, and Orange Fanta.

It’s so simple, but so good! Vanilla ice cream with Hershey’s chocolate syrup in a dish gave us room to dish about most anything.

We laughed, and joked, and prodded, and plotted, and talked, and talked, and talked. My dad and I believed that we solved most of the world’s problems over bowls and pints and gallons.  Sometimes – when desperate times called for desperate measures and we couldn’t be bothered with conventions – we simply stood at the kitchen sink and passed the big container between us. When we’d get caught, we just exchanged a look and a snicker that said, “Oops! Oh, well.”

When I came home from college, I excitedly told Dad that I had something special for him. No, it wasn’t the post-college job he was praying for (and had paid for).  My gift to him was Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia. Momentarily he feigned disappointment. He rolled his eyes. He shook his head. Then he ate a spoonful of frozen joy. From that point on, there was no other.

Ben & Jerry were capable and trusted moderators of our discussions, debates, and the occasional heated argument.

Forays into different Ben & Jerry flavors left him vaguely disappointed.

Frozen yogurt was a sin.

Iced milk … well that was simply pure, unadulterated blasphemy.

I don’t remember a time that Dad and I didn’t enjoy ice cream together, which really just meant we were enjoying our time together. All I really want is more time. I’d trade all the ice cream for just five more minutes.

In the absence of time, however, I’ll keep my ice cream. It reminds me of my dad and the wonderful man he was. It reminds me that we were a pretty terrific father-daughter combination; we were two scoops of the same flavor. It reminds me of our sweet life together.

I’m going to need a lot of ice cream. I doubt my impending double-fisted ice-cream-eating bonanza will be pretty. But it will be comforting for me to Eat It, St. Louis!

*It didn’t have to happen to our family. It doesn’t have to happen to your family. Please, talk to your physician about your risk and a colonoscopy. It would have saved my dad’s life.

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I love to help kids get their food-loving legs under them. Whenever a niece or nephew or – well, OK … ANYONE – asks me to make something, I’m more than happy to oblige. If I can help a kid keep an open mind about food and flavor and texture, I feel like my mission is accomplished.

Often a request will come my way that simply changes the way familiar flavors are presented, or even challenges (a little bit) what is usual.

This is my story of my nephew, Nick, and Birthday Pie.

Several years ago, I came across a Martha Stewart recipe for apple pie with white cheddar cheese crust. I’d never made a pie before, but knowing that apple pie is my husband’s favorite I decided to give it a whirl. It was my first pie, and it was beautiful and perfect and totally Martha-worthy.

Me being cheesy -- cheddar cheesy -- with my apple pie.

Since then, I’ve taken this pie to many Thanksgiving dinners, and it’s been received with rave reviews*.

So … this past Thanksgiving when I walked in with a warm pie, my 8-year-old nephew, Nick, came running up to me. His big blue eyes were lit with excitement.

Nick: “Amy, you brought pie!”

Me: “Yup, sure did.”

Nick: “What kind is it?!?!”

Me: “Apple, and it’s good!”

Nick (the light fading from his eyes): “Awe, man. It’s always apple.”

Me: “Well, what kind would you like?”

Nick: “Hummm, well, um … BLUEBERRY.”

Me: “Alrighty then, it’s blueberry you’ll get. How about if I make it for your birthday?”

We were agreed, and I promised the birthday pie.

When I told Nick’s mom, Karen, about our discussion, she laughed. “That kid has never had a blueberry pie. It’s funny that he is so certain about wanting one.”

Really, that’s all the motivation I needed. I couldn’t wait to make a pie for Nick.

As Nick’s party approached, I took to the internet … oh, the internet … to find a blueberry pie recipe. We are all familiar with my love of recipes.  As luck would have it, the internet and The Food Network had just what I wanted and exactly what Nick had requested.

An all-butter crust, fresh blueberries, and a not-so-dead-sweet syrup to hold it all together. What’s more, this pie is drop dead gorgeous! I think that’s what I love most about pies … they are simply beautiful.

The big day arrived, and his special treat was ready! When I showed Nick his blueberry pie, still warm from the oven, the light was in his baby blues all over again. He was excited for singing, presents, and pie.

A lovely blueberry birthday pie fit for a 9 year old!

This is how Nick turned 9, enjoying his very own blueberry pie.

Happy Birthday, Nick!

I love, LOve, LOVE introducing curious and willing kids to new flavors and different presentations. All they have to do is hint at wanting something, and I’m in the kitchen. It’s important that kids to grow into adults who’ll want to Eat It, St. Louis!

And we did Eat It, St. Louis! And it was good!

* Except for the year that my local market mis-labeled the apples and the pie filling liquefied. Since learning that horrible, hard lesson, I use only Granny Smith apples. They simply hold up best!

Lamb Chops, Roasted Asparagus, Bleu Cheese Mashed Potatoes with Balsamic, Rosmary & Garlic Reduction

Life is complicated and life is messy. For me, Sunday supper is a time, a day, and a place where I am able to carve out a simple and uncluttered port away from the storm. It has always been a time to reconnect with family and friends. Bringing everyone around the table affords us the opportunity to talk about the week past and plan for the next.

Unfortunately, even though 6:30 Sunday evening rolls around every week, Sunday supper can get lost. In the summer, random rounds of golf go a little long or what started out as a stroll around the neighborhood turns into a full-blown hike along the river. In the winter, it’s either a rush-hour show and big tub of buttered popcorn or the it’s-too-nasty-to-go-to-the-grocery argument that inevitably sink supper plans

Sometimes, however, I simply crave it. Yesterday was that day, and I needed the rigor and the work and planning and the escape that Sunday supper offers me.

As I mentioned, life is complicated. If you’re living a full life, how could it not be? I have a blended family, and I’m fortunate that I get along quite well with Mark’s (my husband’s) ex-wife. As a matter of fact, we spent a very pleasurable day together rooting on our son, Allen, while he competed in an equestrian event. It may not sound terribly complicated; but try writing it all out in a way that honors every relationship without overstepping boundaries. It’s complicated. And I’m not sure I did it justice.

But anyway …

It was a long day, and sometimes even routine life-management-activities leave me a bit drained and lacking focus. I left the event feeling like I needed a little comfort. When I say “comfort,” I really mean a good meal I prepare. Embarking on the nearly one-hour drive home, I started to flip through my mental recipe box to decide what Sunday supper should include.

Ah-ha! In honor of spring, lamb was the perfect choice. I took a short detour to Straub’s – a local gourmet-ish market – for lamb chops. I also picked up delicate asparagus. Things were shaping up nicely.

Once home, I prepared a lovely balsamic, rosemary, garlic marinade* for the chops, chilled a bottle of rosé, and checked in on my email. And then things got messy … emotionally.

Kathy, my step-mom, had emailed** to let me know that the new (experimental) chemotherapy treatment my dad*** is enduring is having the worst side effects of any treatment he’s had to-date. The bottoms of his feet feel like they are sunburned when he walks. He also cannot talk or eat without severe pain because of what chemo has done to the inside of his mouth.

My dad – a big, strapping, red-headed Irishman – has had sunburned feet before. (There was an unfortunate incident on a beach in Italy many years ago.) Ultimately, he can work with that. It’s rotten, but workable.

He’s never, however, ever had a problem talking or eating. That, my friends, is simply rotten.

Dad and Kathy are facing new challenges with regard to pain management and nutrition. And here I sit writing a food blog. (Irony, anyone?)

I was relieved to have the work of supper in front of me. The hustle and bustle of the kitchen allowed me to avoid talking. Rather, I simply asked Mark to read the note Kathy sent me. He did, and he granted me the space to continue to work quietly.

When everything was ready – lamb chops, roasted asparagus, bleu cheese mashed potatoes – we sat down to our Sunday supper and I was ready to talk: about my day; about my dad; about last week; about next week.

And I had a glass or two of wine.

Into every life a little wine must flow ... or something like that!

I’m thankful that my life isn’t any more complicated than it needs to be. While I hate the “messy,” I’m motivated to help Dad and Kathy find a fix for what I’m hoping is a temporary setback. And I’m glad I followed my instinct and created a proper Sunday supper.

Think about the meal you might make next Sunday and the benefits you and your family will enjoy. Perhaps you’ll create a great memory. Maybe you’ll give someone in your family the space he or she needs to talk. You just might find your own rhythm and focus that gets your week off on the right foot.

Regardless, just do it and Eat It, St. Louis!

*If you’re interested in this easy marinade recipe that works with pork and chicken, too, you can find it in Nick Stellino’s Glorious Italian Cooking, page 125, or click on the link. Until I understand all the copyright ins and outs, I’ll simply direct you to previously published recipes.

**Dad and Kathy live in Tampa, FL, so we rely heavily on email, Skype, Facebook, and texting. We are totally hip!

***Yes, my dad has cancer. No, I don’t talk too much about it. We, as a family, take it day-by-day and we are grateful for every single one. ‘Nuff said.

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