Archive | February, 2013

Wedding Photos You’ve Never Seen

28 Feb

5 years ago yesterday, I saw Laura’s picture on and wrote her a cheeky email with the subject line “Wow.” In celebration of that other anniversary, I’m sharing other (not the ones you’ve seen in the slideshow) wedding photos by Ana June, who just won a major photography scholarship because, well, she’s a stunningly good photographer, as you are about to see. Gotta love the pics that capture real life in all its messy, true glory. Probably even harder to pull off than the posed ones. You can read the story behind these photos in Chapter 29 of Licking the Spoon, “Carryover Cooking.”

What’s your favorite photo?

Ultimate End o’ Feb, Comfort Food, Crowd-Pleasing Chicken Recipe

27 Feb

This recipe, which appears in Chapter 7, is a beloved family classic. It’s also inexpensive, and makes the house smell amazing.

Grandma Marie being very gracious as I give her the coffee can Santa boot cookie jar that I made with my mom's help...

Grandma Marie being very gracious as I give her the coffee can Santa boot cookie jar that I made with my mom’s help…



Grandma Marie’s Chicken Fricassee

Yield: 8 servings

1 whole chicken, skin mostly removed

2 stalks celery,
cut into 1-inch lengths

2–3 carrots,
cut into 1-inch lengths

1 onion, quartered
3–4 tablespoons flour
Salt and pepper to taste
4 cups chicken broth or stock

Place the chicken and vegetables in a tall pot and add stock and water to cover it. Bring water to a boil, then simmer for an hour or two. Rotate chicken periodically. Cook until the meat is falling off the bones. Keep adding water as needed, to just cover the chicken.

Place a colander in another large bowl or pot and strain the pot’s contents. Reserve the broth. Transfer broth back onto stove and cook it at a low boil to reduce and concentrate the liquid.

Separate chicken from carcass and place in a separate bowl. You can add the vegetables to the chicken mixture, or compost/discard them along with the chicken bones. Once that step is complete, bring broth on stove to a rolling boil.

Here’s where I add my own touch: I chop up mushrooms and shallots, and in a separate pan, sauté them in butter and white wine during the broth reduction step.

In a medium-size bowl or large glass liquid measure, add 1 cup of water and whisk 2 tablespoons of flour into it—hard—so that no lumps remain. It should look like milk, rather than water with flour bits in it. Slowly pour this into the broth and whisk briskly together. Lower the heat; stir it some more. Repeat the steps above 1 or 2 more times until the liquid reaches the desired gravy consistency, coating the back of the spoon.

Add the chicken (and mushrooms, shallots, if desired) to the gravy, stir for another few minutes, and serve over rice.

Stuffed Shells Surprise

26 Feb


These might be better than than your momma’s. Why? Because your momma probably was afraid, when you were a kid, that if the ricotta filling was too, well, green, you  wouldn’t like it. See the green stuff in the picture? Not bits of spinach leaf. No. That’s the filling, so jam-packed with fresh spinach, fresh arugula, fresh basil, that the ricotta is probably only at most 20% of it. It’s blitzed in the food processor with a couple of eggs, a few big cloves of raw garlic, salt, pepper. How much leafy greenery should be added? Twice as much as you think. If you feel that the mixture is getting too stiff/tough, add some milk. This isn’t a precision thing.

But, here are the steps. Boil water, add shells, cook al dente, drain. Make filling out of the aforementioned ingredients. You can always freeze any extra filling. Approximately 10 cups greens to 1 cup ricotta and 2 eggs. Stuff the shells, placing them side by side in a Pyrex roasting pan. Pour tomato sauce over the whole lot. Nice and wet. Then sprinkle shredded fresh mozzarella on top. Want to get lucky tonight? Use burrata instead of mozzarella. Bake at 375 degrees until the sauce is bubbly and the cheese is nicely browned.

The leftovers are fantastic as a lunch the next day (but one of your coworkers will probably steal them out of the work fridge).

Two (hot) cookies indeed!

26 Feb
Reader Kate Archibald-Cross just shared this wonderful dispatch and photo from Canada.
“It arrived!!! We are two cookies and about three pages in, and we love it! We’ll be reading it to each other obsessively until we’re done – thank you, thank you, thank you!”

Open it.

25 Feb

“It’s like you’re walking around with this enormous suitcase full of magic and you are never allowed to open it, because the rules say that the things in that suitcase are not worthy of artistic consideration. Worlds, childhood memories, pretend, fantasy, archaeology–all that. And so, until I could open that suitcase, I didn’t really have anything to work with. It was like trying to paint with your hands behind your back.”

Melissa Zink

Screen Shot 2013-02-24 at 4.29.09 PM

I enjoyed walking through the Albuquerque Museum’s Deco Japan exhibit last Saturday, but it was in the less sexy Common Ground: Art in New Mexico exhibit that I stumbled upon Melissa Zink’s assemblage piece Spectacular Helmet (not the one above) and the quote that accompanied it.

The quote encourages me, and should encourage all writers of memoir, to open the suitcase and use the contents, to privilege them doggedly, as the glorious and worthy bits of fodder that they are.

Natilla is Cuban for love

24 Feb
This luscious custard is sprinkled with cinnamon.

This luscious custard is sprinkled with cinnamon.

Sugar and spice, everything nice: egg yolks, vanilla, milk, cinnamon…this is not a multitasking-friendly thing. It needs to thicken, and you have to be patient and persistent. But the reward is silky, creamy custard that puts rubbery instant pudding to shame. It tastes delicious warm, and also, chilled. Add whipped cream if you like.

I remember my Grandma Migdalia stirring it patiently, at the stove. She was methodical and tireless when it came to home tasks. She’d spend a half hour scrubbing a roasting pan to get a year’s worth of residue off of it. She didn’t let me go to bed on summer nights before she washed my feet with a cool rag soaked in water and rubbing alcohol. Thorough. Loving. Stern. The fruits of her labor were sweet.

As long as I am still making natilla, my grandmother Migdalia lives on. She also lives on in my perfectionism and shocking candor, in my daughter’s fiery self-possession, in my mother’s feistiness and fierce protectiveness–and in our shared survivor spirit. How does your grandmother or great-grandmother live on in you? Leave a comment below to share her legacy.

The Way We Weighed

22 Feb

Why are gastric bypasses so popular? Why does America have such an obesity crisis? Sure, fast food, and Coke, and white flour, and Doritos designed to be more potently addicting than crack, and spending 95% of one’s time on one’s ass. Those are factors.

But for a group of folks who were asked if they could pinch an inch in the ’70s (now doesn’t that sound quaint? A campaign like that wouldn’t exactly click today), I’ll tell you what turned that generation’s mild thinner-wishers into crazed bingers who traded Weight Watchers meetings for a date with a surgeon:

Weight Watchers Recipe Cards, from 1974, specifically.  Diet food so disgusting that made people want to throw themselves in Hannibal Lecter’s way–or rebel by eating the most indulgent and junky food they could find.

Diet food so disgusting and presented with such confused cultural syntax, that reviewed today, it’s accidentally spit-take hilarious. Especially after being captioned by Wendy McClure of (Thank you so much, Kathleen Chambers, for sharing this with me.)

To wit:

Screen Shot 2013-02-22 at 6.47.53 AM

Screen Shot 2013-02-22 at 6.16.39 AM

I touched on the dieting culture of the ’70s in Licking the Spoon, while talking about observing my mother’s fad diet adventures when I was a child. Here’s a passage that you won’t find in the book, as it ended up on the cutting room floor (I blew past my word count to the tune of a scandalous 50,000 words!).

Potato salad always reminded me of this story from a Christian diet book my mom had when I was a kid. It was called Free to Be Thin, and it contained narratives by women who had lost weight through the intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ.


In the story, this woman (let’s call her Madge), who had a history of being seriously overweight, felt so confident that she made a huge bowl of her famous potato salad for a party and didn’t eat one bite. Everyone enjoyed it. Then, that night, after everyone went to bed, she made another equally huge batch and ate the whole thing. It made her so sick that she had to have her stomach pumped. And that’s when she realized she wouldn’t succeed without God’s help.

The pathos of that story stayed with me. How embarrassed she must have been in the emergency room as all of that potato salad was sucked out of her. How her vain glory, as she said, led to that moment. The deadly sin of gluttony, too. But because, at the time, I thought nothing of making myself throw up if I felt too full, I also thought that she probably could have saved herself the trip to ER if she just knew how to make herself boot.

In 20 or 30 years, I’m sure people will look back and laugh at our current dietary obsessions, but hey–you have to admit that the healthier meals we’re choosing now at least don’t resemble things Oscar the Grouch plopped onto a (rope/tiki/dancing Dutch lasses-decorated) plate.


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