I am an adventurous eater because I love food.  But, it has to be good food. Tasty. Delicious. Satisfying. I was spoiled from a very early age by my grandmother’s cooking. She was the absolute best at anything. I don’t know where or how she learned to cook but she was magnificent. She could turn yesterday’s leftovers into a pasha’s feast. As a young child sitting in her messy kitchen, I was always fascinated at how efficient and quick she was and how she always knew when to add ingredients or remove her perfections from the oven.

One day I wanted to surprise her and Granddaddy when they came home from shopping by making some light and fluffy biscuits like hers. I worked excitedly, imitating, I thought, what I’d seen her do millions of times. Well…you could’ve used those biscuits as hockey pucks they were so hard and deformed looking. My grandparents  only laughed like crazy and grandaddy teased me relentlessly about those hard as nails biscuits. I could only laugh because he was so funny!! Grandmother, laughing, told him to shut up, like she always did, and then proceeded to show me how to make her famous light and flakey ones.

I’ve only tasted two absolutely, for me, horribly inedible dishes in my life (besides those biscuits!). The first was a beef in chocolate sauce (YECH!!) served at an impromptu Israeli Thanksgiving dinner in NYC. I don’t know if it was the fault of the cook or just an awful concoction in the first place. It was obvious they knew nothing about Thanksgiving; the turkey looked like it was risen from the dead it was so scrawny and dry. OMG!!

The second was in a posh gourmet Thai restaurant in Munich, Germany. A large group of us were celebrating the birthday of a collective friend. I ordered an exotic soup because I liked the sound of the name. The waiter warned me that it was terrifically spicy. I said bring it on, I love spicy food. One SIP from that spoon and my TEETH were on fire!!! I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t talk! The waiter, having never left my side, quickly gave me a glass of cold water and throat lozenges. The guests at the table were in fits of laughter!! I could only whisper…LOL!

One thing that I do know about food from my travels, it’s a great way to meet and make new friends. All over the world, many good times happen in the kitchens of mothers, wives, friends. No matter how big or small the kitchen everyone seems to gravitate towards the kitchen: watching the cook in their element, listening to the clatter of pots and pans and the soft bubbling of liquids, setting the table, lighting the candles, choosing the music, presenting the aromatic plates of succulent dishes that have been slaved over by the cook, pouring the wine or iced tea, saying grace … it’s a centuries old tradition that warms the heart and revs up joyous conversation. It’s a time honored ritual that I always enjoy and hope will never go out of style.

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A Rustic Classic…

I was feeling very energetic and creative, so I decided to make Ratatouille, a vegetable stew which hails from Provençe, in southeastern France on the French-Italian border. It’s a rustic, hearty dish made of summer vegetables that can be eaten as a side dish or served over pasta, rice, or my favorite, couscous, with crunchy French bread. and tasty wine. Formidable!!

I see lots of pictures on the internet with the vegetables cut just so and artistically arranged in casserole dishes. I think such attention to detail misses the point of the dish entirely!!  It’s a rustic stew, meaning a country dish, from the land, traditionally made in a large dutch oven where it cooks for over an hour allowing the herbs, spices, and veggies to blend to perfection.  Ratatouille is best when served with wine, crusty bread, and meant to be enjoyed with family, great friends, and hearty laughter and conversation.

It’s labor intensive but well worth the effort: It’s healthy, vegan, and can keep for weeks in the freezer.

I start my ratatouille with eggplant, red, orange, and yellow peppers, zucchini, and yellow squash. For my sauce I use tomato paste, onions,  and Roma tomatoes. Spices and herbs are fresh garlic, rosemary, basil,  cilantro, salt and pepper. Utensils needed are a large cutting board, a very sharp knife, a large Dutch oven and several rimmed baking sheets. It would be ideal if all of your pots and pans are non-stick; clean up is so much easier.

The top center picture illustrates how the vegetables are prepared: they are washed, cut into chunks, then spread separately in one layer on the baking sheets: peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and squash. Sprinkle each sheet with olive oil, salt, and pepper, basil, rosemary, and cilantro. Smash several garlic cloves and distribute over the veggies as well.  Set the oven to 350 degrees, no higher. You want the taste of the veggies and seasonings to slowly meld to perfection. Put all of the veggies in the oven at the same time. If your oven isn’t large enough, rotate them in shifts. The eggplant will be done first. Keep close watch as you don’t want them to overcook. 

While that’s happening, bottom right, blanch your tomatoes by cooking them for 15 seconds in boiling water then transferring them immediately to water that is  ice cold. The skins should peel right off! Cut them into chunks and cook with the diced onions, smashed garlic cloves, olive oil, and tomato paste. Add them to the Dutch oven and let simmer. Slowly. Once the tomatoes have melted into the paste, add the remaining herbs, salt and pepper.

Bottom left: the veggies should be finished roasting by now. Slowly add them to the tomato sauce and let simmer on low heat for about an hour, stirring every 20 minutes so that nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot.  The video above shows you how delicious it looks as it’s cooking. Your kitchen should smell like you’re in Provençe, and, if you’re like me, should look like hell!!

Notice, I didn’t give any measurements or weights  ot instructions along that line. This is a rustic, family meal that should be made to taste, your taste, in my opinion. You may want to add Thai or spicey red peppers, perhaps Shiitake mushrooms, or add a little wine to the tomato. sauce. You’re the chef – CREATE!!

The aftermath!!! Whenever I visited my grandmother’s kitchen and it looked like death warmed over, I KNEW she had cooked a fantastic feast from scratch and we were going to eat like Pashsas from the Ottoman Empire!!!!!!

Ben and Gerry founders take corporate responsibility to a new level: they walk the walk!!

Hey! It’s the Fourth of July weekend (WHHAAAATT? Already!) Yes…already. I know…I just can’t seem to keep up either. LOL! I don’t know about you but ice cream has always been part of my 4th  of July weekends and summer weekends in general, since as far back as I can remember. My family invested in a state-of-the-art ice cream maker and it was on!! We had all kinds of fruit trees in our large yard: pear, plum, fig, peach. When we went to visit our grandparents we’d go off into the woods or search along the side of the road for fresh raspberries and blueberries. We’d then buy big bags of rock salt add the cream, sugar, and the fresh fruit and – voila – fresh homemade ice cream. The best part of making the ice cream was the churning! I loved cranking the churn for minutes on end. the anticipation was awesome!!

I’m still a big time fan of ice cream and I’ll never give it up. I love, love, love ice cream. When Ben & Jerry came on the market, I immediately gravitated to it because the names and ingredients reminded me of those churning days of summer. Not to mention it tastes exquisitely good!!

Imagine my surprise to learn that Ben and Jerry are big time political activists who donates lots of their money, time, and energy to their beliefs. They are very interested in police reform and the reformation of our justice system, especially where these issues marginalize and unfairly treat people of color. They were one of the first corporations to endorse and support gay marriage, they  lobbied heavily in support to end police qualified immunity,  and have openly stated that they want in real ways to dismantle white supremacy in the USA. So, stock up on Ben and Jerry’s ice cream this weekend and every weekend. Show them some love and support. At least you know you’re getting great ice cream and a great return on your money.