I never planned to be chef.
Never fantasized about it as a dream job; never considered it a fallback. My family was made up of doctors, lawyers, stockbrokers, politicians; all products of a silver spoon upbringing, Ivy League educations and connections. Restaurant work was blue collar and low class. Something you might do for an inebriated fun summer during college (if you couldn’t get an internship with an uncle on The Hill). But certainly, it was not something you did for your livelihood. If I’m giving you the impression that my family was uptight, and entitled well … yeah, they were. And I completely bought the whole Suburban Soccer Mom fantasy with the brilliant yet secondary career. I was destined to do something that required an advanced degree. I was supposed to marry well (preferably a doctor or lawyer), to go into politics, and BE somebody. I was taught how to be a wife first and foremost. But what I was really taught were the tricks of how to hide your credit card expenditures, mix a mean martini, and dress to attract a man. What I was not taught was how to communicate even when you disagree and to work together toward common goals.
So my career was a result of waiting to be something else. It was something that I did all along, but really never thought about, like a waiter is preparing to be an actor. She never thinks of herself as a waiter. It is always as the actor who’s professional life is about to begin in blazing hot spotlights of glory. Out of the whole package that was sold to me as the desired “perfect life,” all I really wanted was to be a mother. I fell in love disastrously, first when I was 15 and then at 20 with the best friend of my mother’s husband. When she put a stop to that, I got knocked up by the next guy I dated for more than a minute. There was little planning or forethought. I had absolutely no idea of how to make a happy family or what one was. I didn’t particularly like him, even though he filled all the check boxes of a handsome, smart, well educated lawyer. I wanted my kid to have two parents in the same house (something I never had). I wanted to be the best mother possible. The problem was that I had absolutely no idea what a good mother was or what a good wife was. Everything opposite of what I experienced, that was for sure. Yet you cannot create a positive composite on a negative. My son was born in the middle (exactly) of the entire marriage that was as astronomic a failure as is possible for two people to create. I am cognizant of how completely I failed Nick and his rigid father. The marriage was like a blitzkrieg of anger, resentment and hostility. He hated me for getting pregnant, and hated me more for not loving him, and still playing ‘if only’ with him starring as the replacement. We both emerged from the 18 month debacle like shell shocked survivors after a holocaust. It was not fair to bring a child forth as unprepared as I was. I wandered through marriages and relationships like it was something that was happening to someone else. I had no idea what I was doing, and it was far too evident.
Somewhere along my particularly catastrophic attempts at monogamy, a pair of jewels appeared that changed the focus. I decided to stop pretending to be married, to quit agreeing to marry anyone that needed to be saved like a stray puppy, and just love my children. I apparently have no built in radar for appropriate matches or relationships, and repeatedly loved men who were like the mother and father who failed me so colossally the first time around. So I decided to let my children’s fathers orbit my world closely, but not in my bed or in my heart; to share the children equally, and to continue to love their fathers in spite of themselves, while not enabling them or giving them power over my happiness. Somewhere at this point I came to terms with being a chef. I made the decision that this was my calling and that I was simply avoiding the inevitable. As a single woman I had to figure out how to balance my career with two little ones to fend for. I had to figure out how to be both a chef and a mom.
I was obviously shit at marriage, but the by-products were something spectacularly special. Something so amazing that they gave purpose to all the others failures I had endured and survived and was beginning to learn from. The girls were born six years and six hours apart, on the other sides of midnight. They were light and dark, summer and winter, gravity and weightlessness; perfect opposites in every way.
When I got pregnant with Hadyn, I knew Holly would be upset. Probably my first clue was the fact that she had asked me repeatedly NOT to have any more children. “I am the baby,” she would say, “you aren’t going to have anymore, right?” Sure, I would promise. No intention, NOT EVER getting married again after your father I would think, but tequila being what it was, there was going to be another baby in six months, with a man who I was not married to. I was going to have to tell her about before it became obvious. So we did, all of us, in her therapists office, surrounded by her dad, Hadyn’s father, me, Dr. Susan…how much back up did I need for a five year old? I say the words, and she looked at me with those harsh accusing beautiful deer sized eyes and said, “How could you do this to me?”
No, I wasn’t even slightly prepared.
She never acknowledged the pregnancy. Not once. Never wanted a baby sister to kiss and cuddle and tickle and care for. When I would take her shopping, she would ignore me or pretend we were doing something else. Dr. Susan advised patience, as she abandoned all her dolls and stuffed animals, and watched me with those accusing eyes that made my heart break for the next six months. We never had a conversation again (not for lack of trying) about what was going to happen, even through all the sonograms and baby showers and too many doctor’s visits, she never said a word. Her sister managed to be born three weeks early via emergency c-section and completely ruined Holly’s sixth birthday, as well as leaving her to the mercy of her father, to deal with her party. It was a disaster and she was crushed. I had failed her again, by leaving her to her father’s mercy for her birthday of all things. As wise as she was at this age, she realized that I knew how completely incapable he was of pulling off something as complicated as a children’s party. I had let her down, not him; she made that quite clear, and didn’t come to the hospital till it was time for me to go home two days later.
I will never understand why her father dropped her off at the front entrance of a major hospital. But then he had done so much worse over the years, that I was not surprised when this beautiful creature, who was so very tall for her age, showed up alone at the NICU.
“Where is your Father?” I asked.
“He dropped me off.”
“All by yourself?” Sadly, I was not surprised, not even slightly.
“Yes. I just told the front desk I was your daughter and they found you for me.”
Breathe deeply, this isn’t about him.
“Do you want to meet your baby sister?” I ask.
“I suppose.” She said this so quietly and bitterly my heart wrenched all over
Holly climbed on the bed and I placed the little bundle in her lap. Hadyn was so very little and early and tiny and small. I kissed Holly on the top of her head and said, “She is yours now.”
And I turned away.
Whenever I tell this story people always stop and ask me “weren’t you afraid?” No. Not ever. I trusted this child who had been born with the gift of a perfectly kind heart. She would never hurt anything, much less this perfect being who now belonged to her. No, not afraid, but I did hold my breath.
I was packing to leave, slowly and painfully. I would be back at work in two or three days and this was my first day to figure out how my feet worked again after being literally cut in two. Most people with paid maternity leave, do not understand what it is like to own your own business. I was back at work five days after dropping this kid, max. If I didn’t work, no one else was going to take care of the bills. I was quiet and absorbed in thinking about payroll and money and mortgages. Now another little one depended on me. I was afraid but for a very different reason.
After a while I noticed that Holly was very, very quiet. She was breathing so silently that I could not hear her, and staring intently at the tiny little face in front of her.
“What do you think of her?” I asked.
She looked at me with solemn and somber eyes.
“Mommy, do you ever feel like your heart is so big that it will explode in your chest? Because that is how I feel when I look at her.”
Yes, my little darling. I know that feeling so well. I feel that every time I look at you.
And so I had my perfect little jewels, whose flaws made them unique and original and no less precious. I kissed and smoothed the little scars and puckers on their foreheads, and let them know that I would love them no matter what they did with their lives, or who they became; that my love for them was perfect and whole and immutable. I would never leave them; I would never betray them; I would never let them down. As Holly grew older she created increasingly bizarre scenarios as only her little blossoming mind could produce to prove that love could not possibly be always unconditional.
“What if I become a trailer park junkie and sell Navajo blankets, that I steal from an old age home to support my drug habit as well as my sixteen dogs and twenty-one cats, that I have adopted from death row?” she asked.
I would feel very sad about the stealing blankets from the old people and happy for the animals that you took care of and I would love you through your addiction.
“What if I want to go to Texas and became a Humvee driving deer hunting gun toting extremist, with Defeat Obama Defend Freedom bumper stickers. Then in a fit of rage I open fire on helpless bunnies. Would you still love me?”
I would drive to Texas in a Prius with a “Humankind: Be Both” bumper sticker, and perform an exorcism on you and your car, and bury the deer during an appropriately solemn Navajo healing ceremony, and patch up all the bunnies by microsurgery. And yes, I would still love you and wrap you in my arms in a belly to belly hug and would make you whole again with the completeness of my understanding and acceptance.
And it went on and on, a litany of things she would never do, and harms she would never commit, all to reassure herself that my love for her was inviolable and complete and true and permanent. She had set up an elaborate set of signals that I was supposed to give her after I died so that she would know I was watching her always. She was never sure, she never believed me one hundred percent, but I understood this uncertainty: it was completely familiar.
Hadyn was exactly the opposite; the child born to physical swagger and emotional security. When I told her that I loved her, her inevitable response was “I know.” When I told her how beautiful and perfect she was both inside and out, she sighed and said, “I KNOW mommy.” As if too much repetition of her fabulousness was tedious. Her Achilles heel was her father, who she watched nervously as a little bird, completely responsible for his depressive mood swings and frozen emotions. She hovered around his feelings, trying to nurture the positive ones into life and breathing hope, and I watched helpless. What could I do, what could I say, how could I tell her that his path was his alone, and she was not responsible for his happiness, his decisions, or mine for that matter? I was lost and helpless as I watched her furrow her little brow, watching him, and worrying when she was not with him; saving scraps of little girl treasures to make him happy.
So much of this was a result of what I did: a byproduct of being away so much of the time making other people happy when I should have been home taking care of the little baby hearts who were mine to love. My days off were never weekends and holidays. My anticipations were not theirs. I could not wait for Wednesdays and sleep and computer time and quiet, and they couldn’t wait for the weekends I could never participate in. I tried to leave my kitchen in competent hands. Each time it was a failure of epic proportions. I was not there, every regular customer noted as they walked through the front door of the restaurant…she was not there. We’ll come back another time.
I posted on my social media page, “What is your favorite comfort food, and what memories does it evoke.” The responses were epic and some people typed volumes, sharing their stories. They all had the commonality of Mom and making you feel safe and warm and cared for and mostly loved in the way that only a mom can. My memories did not include her, and after reading the posts from my friends and customers I was humbled and saddened at the same time. There were very few things more important than the way we nurtured our children. It seemed to be irrelevant what kind of food we fed them; what mattered was that they felt safe and loved. I read concoctions on my news feed that made me cringe. These were comfort food memories and their common thread was being emphatically and universally non gourmet. Macaroni and cheese, any manner of grilled cheese sandwiches, meatloaf, potatoes so many ways, oatmeal, grits, fried eggs…the list was endless and simple.
I wrote this on a day I had nothing left to give; a day that I should have been teaching or working but couldn’t find the energy inside me to be kind. A day that I was completely drained of fire and emotion, and my heart was as grey as the day outside. I would go back tomorrow to being a chef and community activist, and creating love on a plate and making peace. For today I was frozen inside with regret of what I had not done. How I had not been the kind of mother my children needed, but just the one they got. I would cook tonight for them and not for anyone else. Maybe better yet we would have a bed picnic, and watch Harry Potter endlessly, and skip school tomorrow in a tangle of covers and snuggles, with a little white dog that always gets on the bed even when she was not supposed to, and little girls who will not be so little forever.
- AWARD WINNING VEGAN CHILE
- GLUTEN FREE AND VEGAN PIZZA CRUST
- LENTIL AND MUSHROOM POT PIES
- VEGAN MAC AND CHEESE
- SPOON BREAD
- MOM CHOCOLATE CAKE
- CHOCOLATE ALMOND BISCOTTI
4 cups Cannellini Beans or Great Northern Beans
3 cups sweet Yellow Onions diced in one inch dice
2 heads Celery – sliced
15 Tomatillos – husks peeled and washed
8 Parsnips peeled and diced in one inch pieces
10 whole Pasilla chilies (or Poblano or Anaheim)
1 cup peeled garlic cloves
2 – 4 TB Green Chile Powder (to taste)
2 TB Cumin (add more if needed – fresh toasted and ground preferable)
1 TB ground coriander (fresh toasted and ground preferable)
3 TB fresh oregano leaves
1 TB fresh thyme leaves
1 TB lime salt (more as needed) or sea salt flakes
¼ cup liquid smoke (optional)
2 cups rehydrated TVP or Beyond Chicken unflavored
Organic Safflower or Organic Safflower Oil as much as needed
Cover beans and soak overnight. Drain. Rinse and cover with vegetable stock bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for one hour. Place Pasilla chilies on a gas flame and char the outside till completely blackened. Put in a paper bag, closing top to steam. Toast cumin and coriander seeds and grind. Roast all vegetables in a very high heat oven (450) by tossing with a little bit of organic oil until coated. Move frequently till browned all over and add to the bean mix. Peel, seed and chop Pasilla and add with seasonings to mix. Dice Beyond Chicken/TVP into half inch pieces and sauté on stove top in oil until browned, adding liquid smoke in if desired. Add to bean mixture. Cook for a minimum of six hours.
Serve with toppings of avocado, cilantro, onion and tortilla chips.
GLUTEN FREE PIZZA CRUST
2 cup Bob’s Gluten Free All Purpose Flour Mix
1.5 cup amaranth flour
1 cup Tapioca flour
1 tsp herbamare
1 teaspoon Agar-Agar sea vegetable flakes
½ teaspoons smoked salt
2teaspoons xanthan gum
5 packages active dry yeast granules
2 teaspoons agave nectar
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 TB cider vinegar
1 TB baking powder
2 cups lukewarm water (hot water will kill the yeast!)
Heat one cup of water on stovetop with agar and when bubbling pull and puree in blender and let cool till just 110 degrees and put all liquid ingredients together and add yeast. Let proof for 10 minutes. In separate bowl put all dry ingredients and then fold in wet ingredients and knead dough with more tapioca flour as needed. Oil dough and let rise in warm spot for one hour or chill overnight and then allow to rest to room temperature. Parbake dough for 5 minutes at 400 before adding toppings and baking at 350 for 12 minutes. Use cheese sauce from vegan mac and cheese for cheese or Italian cheese spread (see recipe page number)
LENTIL AND MUSHROOM POT PIES
1 cup Umbrian lentils
¼ cup dried porcini mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
6 ounces creminis, sliced
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
¼ cup roasted onion
1 carrot, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rounds
1 tsp fresh thyme
½ tsp sea salt flakes
¼ tsp white pepper
1 large garlic clove, minced
2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes diced into half inch
2 TB balsamic glaze
1 cup vegetable stock
1 teaspoon tamari
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour OR 1 cup Garbonzo flour
6 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 tsp vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoons smart balance
1/2 cup cashew cream
4 oz Cashew cheese
Combine 3 cups cold water, lentils, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in medium saucepan; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until lentils are tender, 25 to 30 minutes. Drain; set lentils aside.
Pour 3 cups boiling water over porcini in medium bowl; soak 25 minutes. Remove porcini from soaking liquid, squeeze dry, and chop coarsely reserving soaking liquid
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Add fresh mushrooms and roasted onions. Sauté a few minutes. Add 1 tablespoon oil, fresh onion, carrot, and thyme. Sauté a few more minutes. Add garlic and reduce heat to medium-low. Mix flour into vegetables; cook 1 minute. Add porcini soaking liquid. Mix in porcini, potatoes, tamari, glaze, salt, pepper and vegetable stock. Cover; simmer until potatoes are tender about 15 minutes. Add lentils and divide filling among four 2-cup ovenproof ramekins.
Heat oven to 400. Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in processor; blend 5 seconds. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add cashew cream and vinegar; pulse until dough forms moist clumps. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface. Divide into 4 equal pieces; shape each into 2/3-inch-thick disk. Set rounds atop filling. Top with discs of vegan cashew cheese.
Bake pot pies about 30 minutes.
VEGAN MAC AND CHEESE
2 lbs small to medium shape pasta
2 cups Daiya mozzarella or cheddar
1 cups Just Mayo
2 cups vegetable stock
Two large carrots well steamed and mashed
1 large Yukon gold potato well steamed and mashed
1 tsp herbamare
½ tsp white pepper
Bring water to a boil. Drop pasta and stir frequently to prevent sticking. When al dente (10 minutes) drain and toss with 1 TB smart balance or EVOO to prevent sticking.
Put vegannaise, daiya, mashed carrot, potato and vegetable stock in a saucepan over low heat and bring to a simmer. Stir frequently till Daiya is melted. Pour over pasta mixing thoroughly. Serve immediately.
NOTE: This looks like Kraft Mac and cheese. Your kids will be thrilled. Serves eight.
VEGAN SPOON BREAD
1 cup white cornmeal
1 cup grits
1 cup vegan creamed corn (see recipe page number)
1 cup cashew cream
1 tsp sea salt flakes
2 TB ground golden flax meal
1 ½ tsp baking powder
4 TB Smart Balance
Heat cashew cream and whisk in flax meal and white corn meal, add quick grits, seasonings and creamed corn stir till thickened and add water by the ¼ cup as needed. Add smart balance, baking powder stir well to incorporate. Pour into greased casserole and bake 325 for 30 minutes
MOM CHOCOLATE CAKE
Double recipe for two lawyers.
1 2/3 cups unbleached flour
1 cup organic sugar
3 tablespoons organic cocoa powder
3 TB grated dark organic chocolate
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons safflower oil
1 tablespoon white vinegar
2 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup pomegranate juice or crème de cacao
¼ cup dark cold coffee
¼ cold sparkling water
Heat oven to 350. In a bowl, combine flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, and salt and mix well. In separate bowl mix liquids except sparkling water and fold into dry ingredients. Add sparkling water a splash at a time till well incorporated. Do not over mix.
Grease and flour and line with wax paper a 9 inch cake round. Bake for 40 minutes turning halfway through.
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
½ cup smart balance
2 tsp vanilla extract
3 TB cocoa powder
1/3 cup crème de cacao
Beat sugar, butter, vanilla together and add crème de cacao in till creamy.
CHOCOLATE ALMOND BISCOTTI
¼ cup organic evaporated cane juice
¼ cup Smart Balance
¼ cup coconut oil
½ cup Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free Baking Mix
½ cup Almond Flour
1 tsp almond extract
1 pinch of salt
¼ cup blanched organic almonds finely chopped
¼ cup melted dark organic chocolate
4 TB chopped dark organic chocolate
Beat the sugar, fats, salt and almond extract together until fluffy. Add melted chocolate.
Gradually fold in the GF flour and almond flour and mix to combine.
Roll the dough into a cylindrical shape about two inches in diameter and wrap in wax paper or parchment and freeze till completely chilled but not frozen
Mix blanched almonds with grated chocolate
Slice chilled dough into ¾ inch thicknesses and place on a parchment lined baking pan. bake in a 350 degree oven about 15 minutes. Roll edges in almond mix. Or sprinkle on top and press in gently. Allow to cool. Store in airtight container.