What's a Girl to Eat
My earliest memory of food is eating a banana wrapped in American cheese. My older cousin, Chris, and I had been watching Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. Mr. Rogers suggested eating cheese wrapped around a banana as a delicious snack- though if you watch the video, he doesn't do a very convincing job selling it. Intrigued by this flavor combination, Chris promptly marched to the kitchen, created the snack, and told me to eat it. To my surprise, it didn't taste that bad; an interesting juxtaposition of flavors.
But Mr. Roger's wasn't our only culinary guide growing up. As children, we spent summers down the shore- in Brigantine, New Jersey- watching our grandmother make tomato salad, roasted peppers, crabs and spaghetti. My cousins and I would spend afternoons crabbing and fishing, and searching the jetty for mussels; but only Chris was adventurous enough to eat our bounty. It's no wonder he grew up to be the owner of a very successful restaurant in Cambridge, MA.
For me, food is an experience and a gateway to some of my most vivid memories. Pizza isn't just a Friday night treat, it is the childhood memory of making homemade pizza with my grandmother; going to Marra's in South Philadelphia for antipasto and pizza before every concert or sporting event; the magical roasted vegetable, potato, and zucchini flower pizza at the restaurant next to my apartment on Viale delle Medaglie d'Oro while studying in Rome and Emiliano's the local pizza joint in Abington my husband and I discovered shortly after buying our house.
Countless meals have been the backdrop for some of my favorite moments. Dinner with my husband, Christopher, under the midnight sun at the Hotel Geysir Restaurant in Iceland; a magnificent, one-of-a-kind lunch in the Umbrian village of Titignano. The family trip to Florida where I ate nothing but New England clam chowder for dinner every night. The meals at Gearo's in Northeast Philadelphia, Christopher and I had our first date, got engaged, and celebrated the purchase of our first home.
But for me, the penultimate meal has not taken place at some casual or fancy, local or exotic restaurant. It's been the Christmas Eve dinner my family has hosted for the last 60+ years. It is a tradition passed down from my great-grandmother to my grandmother, now to my mother, and one day to me. Each of us the oldest women in the family's next generation. In some ways this is the meal I've spent my cooking life preparing for. The eventual passing of the torch and the new traditions I will introduce to the celebration.
Christmas Eve dinner is probably the important dinner of my life. Over the years, the dinner has seen the number of guests at the table grow, shrink, and grow again. It's where engagements and babies have been announced, successes celebrated, and tales of the year told. To bring a significant other to Christmas Eve is like being called up to the Majors in baseball. Everyone remembers their first year attending Christmas Eve dinner or the year they graduated from the kids table.
The house, food, and faces may have changed, but the tradition never will. No matter where you live or what you are doing, on Christmas Eve everyone comes together to celebrate another year with family.
It is the combination of flavors, memories, and traditions that inspire my culinary adventures. I enjoy testing new recipes and trying my hand at my family's classics. I am searching for the perfect loaf of bread, something hearty and rustic. A bread meant to be dragged through olive oil while waiting for the first course to arrive. A pancake that is buttery, light, and fluffy, with chocolate chips and shaped like Mickey Mouse- a nod to the pancakes of my childhood. (For my son's first Christmas, my cousin, Chris, gave him a book inscribed 'May all your pancakes be Mickey Mouse shaped'). I love the experience of cooking, eating, and sharing with my family; of using flavors to build memories and traditions.
I enjoy exploring different ingredients, the art of preparation, and the pride of serving something delicious and healthy to my family. I look forward to sharing my culinary escapades and recipes with you.