After three attempts, in as many years, I believe I have conquered timpano — that barrel-shaped feast of encased noodles, salami, cheese, pork, beef, ragu, hard-boiled eggs, and star of the 1996 movie “Big Night.”
I wrote about my second attempt in 2012. (The first attempt was not worthy of documentation.)
So when I read New York Times food writer, Melissa Clark’s tweaked timpano recipe from December 11 (see below), I was inspired to go for a third round over the holidays. Clark mixed and nixed, modernized and molded an easier, less labor-intensive timpano.
But I was torn. Making timpano is a feat you don’t mess with. I have learned from first-hand experience and as is evident in the movie, it is an event that is supposed to be nothing short of a mix of religious exultation and traumatic sweat — a recipe for stress and science as you chop, slice, toss, stir, wrap and bake with a bow to the ingenuity of the ingredients and salutation to the artistry of the finished product.
There’s the mess on the counter. Arithmetic is called for. You salivate as you combine a bunch of things that you may never have thought could be combined into what becomes an unwieldy mound that then has to be wrapped in dough and baked and ultimately burnt at least two times before you get it right.
But I’m a fan of Clark’s. And a failure at timpano, so …
… I tweaked Clark’s tweak. And because of the merging of her talent and deft with my reckless abandon in the kitchen (because I’ll eat anything) — I finally nailed that drum.
Clark substituted savory roasted butternut squash for the hot hard boiled eggs from the original. I followed her lead, but I wish I had used both. (The addition of roasted squash, though, was sublime.) Also, instead of wrapping it all in dough, she used fresh pasta sheets, which makes for a gigantic, layer-free lasagne, as opposed to an upside-down (not pie-shaped) over-stuffed pizza. In retrospect — give me pizza.
I used broccoli and garlic instead of her broccoli rabe (no strings attached), I substituted honey for nutmeg, and I shoved some mini meatballs in there along with three kinds of homemade (from the local pork store) sausage. (You must never, ever eliminate meatballs. Never.)
And instead of salami OR prociutto, as Clark suggested, I went with salami AND prociutto. Clark took out the pecorino romano — I kept it in.
The one mess-up is that my recent triumph at timpano will for the most part remain in limbo, mainly because I didn’t write anything down, and couldn’t read a good portion of what I did write down. Most of what I’ve written here came from memory after drinking wine and eating timpano.
I can’t calculate how long it took me, but “faster and easier” and me and timpano didn’t mix (partly because of the frantic Christmas Eve-morning search for fresh pasta sheets). But I do believe my third try gave a nod to Clark’s modernity and a bow to the integrity of the original. And props to me for messing with the pros while maintaining palatability. And I didn’t burn it.
This year, Thanksgiving will be devoted to my mom.
My mom, who is the daughter of immigrants from Northern Ireland, who crossed the sea to America, dirt poor, but rich with a naiveté that allowed hope.
My mom, whose own mom, after a total of three healthy-born children and more than five miscarriages, left her family when my mother was four years old.
My mom, who is the only daughter of a loving father who, alone, raised his three children in Elizabeth, New Jersey and supported them by driving an ice truck.
My mom, innately feisty (and as no-nonsense as good Irish whiskey), who, determined to break the rut of struggle, made a life for herself. By herself.
My mom, a young 20-something woman who became a top-notch secretary, who eventually married her boss, my dad — a handsome, educated, athlete and poet, whose quiet demeanor rimmed (and sometimes masked) his zest and verve, and who, with my mom, raised three children who inherited her hardiness and his calm.
My mom, a 47-year-old woman who left that marriage after 25 years because she wanted what she never had.
My mom, a middle-aged woman whose grit and brains (and good legs), helped build a successful career as an export administrator (and leg model) for an international cosmetics firm.
My mom, who eight months ago was living with the onset of mild dementia, but was still somewhat independent, smart, dignified, supportive, loving, flawed. And feisty.
Then she fell.
She fell and hit her head on a concrete curb on the side of the road while walking alone near her home. For some time, her snow-white coat made her look like a mound of plowed snow, until someone stopped and called for help.
She was fast-forwarded into dementia with severe brain trauma that thrust her into a dark tunnel of a life; a kaleidoscope of sound bites from the past, confusion, hallucinations.
And the occasional laugh:
“When did you turn Chinese?” she asked me.
“I was on an airplane last night that had no pilots.”
“Watch out! Stay next to me! There’s a force field around us!”
And the latest, “They don’t make Pepperidge Farm Stuffing Mix anymore.”
Among the things she worries about when she remembers who she is and who she was, is sending birthday cards, buying gifts, and just recently buying pies from Delicious Orchards and that Pepperidge Farm Stuffing Mix to make her stuffing for the holidays.
For as long as I can remember, no one else has ever made the Thanksgiving stuffing. And until this Thanksgiving, no one knew her recipe. I now have her old, broken, but neat, recipe box from the ’60s with the squawking roosters on the front.
Tucked in between Cabbage with Onions and Irish Bread, and on what appears to be the original 3×5 card, is Sausage Stuffing.
So this Thanksgiving, to be closer to mom, our party of eight will gather in my cozy four-room condo on the beach with the kitchen that only fits five. We’ll cram a big turkey into a less-than-ideal oven (it’s electric!) that comfortably fits a chicken, not a turkey. We’ll have the usual sides — mashed potatoes (I shamelessly might go instant), my mom’s creamed corn recipe that she shared with everyone, a pile of roasted veggies, and my mom’s stuffing recipe that she’s never shared with anyone.
My hope is that mom will make the stuffing (a double batch) for the first time with all of us crammed around her because she can’t be alone with a stove. I’ll imagine what she would be saying if she could.
I’ll chop and mince and measure. She’ll stir and sautee under my brother’s watchful eye. She’ll assemble. (“Never, ever in the bird!”) She’ll put it in the oven. I’ll take it out. I’ll sneak a spoonful before it reaches the table.
We’ll all eat as much stuffing as we can muster, in case this is the last time she has a hand in it. I’ll surprise her with an apple pie and a pumpkin pie from Delicious Orchards for dessert that she can take turns picking at with alternate sides of her fork. (“I think we need whipped cream.”)
We’ll talk as if Thanksgiving and mom are what they used to be. We’ll call her brother who is on the edge of 90 and forgets that his sister is “gone,” and talks as if it’s 1965. We’ll open and read to her the letters from family in Northern Ireland that have piled up.
And no doubt, she’ll remember none of it, including how much stuffing I ate. (“Put the stuffing in front of Lois.”)
But the rest of us will.
I walked over to the Farmer’s Market at Union Square with the goal of making an autumn soup, specifically a butternut squash soup with apples and leeks. I had been inspired by a recipe that arrived in my email from the website My New Roots.
The market was laden with apples and all sorts of squash, (which turns out to be a fruit), but leeks were not to be had. I switched culinary gears. Rather than making a spoonable food I would make something forkable.
I washed the squash, pricked it with a fork and rubbed it with cinnamon because this spice is supposed to have a beneficial effect on blood glucose levels. Roasting is the best solution for conquering this tough old bird of a fruit that masquerades as a vegetable. It becomes a peelable, malleable, cuttable piece of putty and in the process metamorphosizes into a sexy, savory side dish exploding with nutritional benefits.
I whisked together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, more cinnamon, allspice, ginger, nutmeg and hot pepper flakes and doused my squash. It was divine and I felt so nobly healthy as I chowed down with a glass of red wine, which as we all know, also packs a positive nutritional wallop!
Two days later, the craving for squash hit again. This time I scattered cinnamon dusted apples and pecans around the squash and roasted the whole kit and caboodle at 450 degrees. Thirty minutes later I removed the apples and pecans; (they are caramelized and crisped way before the squash). I tossed all of the ingredients together. One bite confirmed that this ould be my contribution to Thursday’s feast.
On April 20, 2013, Lo and I made plans to buy a variety of potatoes and cook them and write about them. We did.
I just came across the pictures I took that day (April 20, 2013), attempting to capture the lushness of the color, the pleasure in the arrangement, the curiosity about the taste.
We paired them with sprigs of fresh rosemary:
and garlic chives:
It only took about 4 days for Lo, Steve and me to consume all 25 potatoes.
Kids love sugar.
Who am I kidding? Just about everyone loves sugar. But it’s not very good for us. That’s how I got to be 60 pounds overweight. Be it cake, candy or ice cream, I crave sweets. I often joke that I wasn’t born with just a sweet tooth — I have a mouth full of them. So when my blood sugar levels began to rise in recent years and my doctor began warning me of impending diabetes, I had to admit that I was addicted to sugar. I think this particular addiction is shared by most people.
Cutting back on sugar was key to my recent weight loss. I hope that it also helps me avoid diabetes. But sugar is the devil constantly tempting me. So when my grandson Bryce was born, his parents decided to have his first year of life be sugar-free. He has been eating fruits, and that is about as much sweet as he has been allowed.
But when his first birthday party came, the celebration included Bryce’s first cupcake with icing. To say that he enjoyed it is an understatement. He rubbed the icing all over his face and even into his hair as if to enjoy the sugar by osmosis. Bryce smiled from ear to ear as the sugar high registered in his brain. As his grownup relatives watched, Bryce became a sugar baby. Can candy be far behind? Oh, the humanity!
When reports started percolating that the blizzard of the century was going to descend Monday evening, I knew I wanted to make soup. I saw myself cuddled up on the couch watching snowflakes fall, then building a snowman and coming home to a bowl of soup.
I had red lentils in the house and stocked up on carrots, celery, onions, coriander and lemon because I never met a lentil soup that isn’t friends with fresh coriander and lemon.
Melissa Clark’s recipe for lentil soup that appeared in The New York Times about six years ago has been my go-to recipe since I first encountered it. It is delicious, simple and the perfect introduction to lentils, especially if they are a legume that never crossed your radar screen. But, when I woke up Tuesday morning, prepared and psyched for stockpiled snow, I discovered the blizzard hadn’t quite materialized in Manhattan. There was a mere dusting on the streets which meant there was really no reason not to go to work. But before resuming regular weekday mode, I wanted to make my soup and in line with the blizzard’s mood, I had no interest in following instructions.
Instead I wanted my soup to reflect happenstance: whatever I felt like throwing in the pot. That’s the advantage of lentils, they can adapt to almost any conglomeration of spices, herbs, and vegetables.
I chopped up a red onion, 4 carrots, 3 stalks of celery, fresh coriander and rinsed the lentils. Prepping is key when cooking in a 4×4′ kitchen that has approximately 12 inches of workable counter space. After all my little bowls were laid out, I poured olive oil into the pot, along with salt and pepper and added 3 crushed cloves of garlic and the onions. I stirred while the onions morphed to translucency.
Then I perused the spice rack and took out the cumin, ground coriander, turmeric, ginger, and red pepper flakes. I sprinkled what amounted to 1/2 teaspoon of each spice into the palm of my hands, rubbed them together and let the spice float into the pot. I read once that that technique releases the flavor. I stirred it all together over a low flame, but I admit I was not bowled over by the flavor wafting into the air.
In went the carrots, celery, lentils and fresh coriander. I stirred some more and thought a squirt or two of tomato paste might be of assistance.
I poured in two 14 ounce cans of chicken broth. It didn’t look like there was enough liquid so I added water until my eyeballs said “Yes that will yield five healthy bowls of soup”. I brought the concoction to a boil, turned the heat to low and let it simmer partially covered for another 45 minutes and then went after it with the immersion blender.
Is it not a great and guilty pleasure to stand in the kitchen and stuff your face with leftovers without worrying about calories or manners?
On nights when Steve’s out, I love emptying the fridge of teflon containers and plastic-wrapped bowls and pouring myself a glass of wine for my kitchen counter feast. It’s so wonderfully decadent. And because the rule is no holds barred, I am so grossed out by my excessiveness that sticking to a game plan of fastidious gym attendance and low carb entrees is a piece of cake, until the next urge to splurge descends with a vengeance.
My pig-out leftovers don’t make it to the “teflon containers and plastic-wrapped bowls.” I do like to stand, though. The best pig-outs for me are after a party. Once the party is over, I walk amongst the ravaged, scooped-out platters and taste everything. Just a fork-full. Unless there is an open bag of potato chips. That I need to sit down for. I can eat them until the corners of my mouth are sore and split from the salt and sharp edges — until I roll on the floor, content, but with stomach curdling, and arms and legs splayed out in a gluttonous tribute to the joy of just letting go.
Julie usually spends New Year’s Eve doing things like taking “the 7 train to Astoria, Queens with a couple of buddies to eat Greek food …” before they try to “grab balloons caught in the trees.” Or maybe she and Steve will “… make dinner and drink champagne and perhaps manage to hang out until the ball drops.”
This year she said she wants a New Year’s Eve party.
I arrived at Julie’s beach house on December 28 promptly at 10:04 in the morning. Since we are both busy tonight, we put together a celebration when it worked for both of us — a Sunday morning. No one else was invited.
We glittered. Her dining room table hosted hats, horns, sparkly 2015 sunglasses. Vodka iced in the freezer. Champagne chilled in the fridge. The cheese was creamy and smelly. Fig jam sweetened up the saltiness. In between pumpernickel bagels, we pulled and gnawed at a loaf of French bread. We even had a log of salami. And cookies.
We splurged. Julie scrambled up some eggs, over which we grated a whole, pungent, earthy, magnificent white truffle. (Thank you, Anita.)
We overindulged. And partied hard. We tooted horns. We drank (just a little) too much. We ate a lot. And we ate a lot of food that we usually try to not eat a lot of. We said goodbye five hours later, both of us feeling fat. Bloated. Fulfilled. And 9 p.m. that night became my “morning after.” Wide awake at midnight, it felt like noon.
Julie and I wish you all a celebratory night, a glorious day-after, and a 2015 full of smelly cheese, a toast or two, a splurge or more, white truffles, salami, sparkles, horns, daylight, friendship, love, a wad of good fortune, and a clean bill of health.